The National Action Network (NAN) hosted a panel discussion about gun violence in N.Y.C Wednesday, marking their annual “National Youth Day Of Action Against Gun Violence.” The event featured local community members as well as chapters in Chicago, Atlanta, and Washington, D.C.
“This epidemic of violence needs a consistent army of peace, working daily, connecting with one another, understanding that the first thing on the life agenda is the preservation of life,” said the Rev. Vernon Williams (pictured in black), a Harlem-based pastor known for youth outreach in his community.
Watch a candlelight vigil at the discussion here:
While acknowledging that “there’s a lot of things that are being done,” Williams framed the issue in a socioeconomic context. “We also need to attack poverty in our community. Everywhere I go, Newark, Coney Island, Brownsville, Queens Village, anywhere I go, the common denominator is poverty, which beg[e]ts violence.”
Asked by the moderator why youth are picking up guns, Chaz Shepherd (pictured far left), a Philadelphia-based activist, agreed with Williams. “Do realize that this is a system,” Shepherd said. “You do realize that this is something that can be stopped that won’t be stopped by who can stop it. So you don’t actually encourage someone to put the gun down, you actually help to change their situation, which in turn helps them to put the gun down.”
“What I find is, the youth, or the gunholders, are not thinking past that bullet,” said Shianne Norman (pictured left), who lost her 4-year-old son Christopher to a shootout after a Morrisania basketball game in 2012 (ironically, the game was to honor another victim of gun violence who’d been killed two years prior).
“They don’t think past the bullet being thrown out of the gun. So I feel, like, if the parents take care of home, if your mother is not gonna allow you to sell drugs, if your father is not gonna allow you to sell drugs, if your mother and father [are] not gonna allow you to bring in guns in their house and let you know there’s consequences behind that — parents nowadays aren’t being parents.”
Norman’s daughter also spoke briefly about her brother’s murder, noting that her family and friends were proactive in response, “We didn’t sit in the house and say, ‘Oh, that’s too bad,’ That’s not what we did,” Amya Edwards (pictured below, top) said. “We talked to people, about it. We went to NAN, and we did things about it instead of sitting in the house and waiting. If you’re sad all the time, you’re not gonna go anywhere.”
“If you look at our culture now and see how much we have glorified violence, if you look at social media and you see the vines, you see the Worldstar, and you see that people are getting a katrillion amounts of likes for beating up someone after school or doing this senseless violence,” said Alize Beal (pictured right of Williams), founder of Y.U.N.G Harlem, a non-profit aiming to provide position leadership for N.Y.C. youth.
Iesha Sekou (pictured center), another activist who works to give youth ways to express themselves through media, argued parents need to be honest with their kids.
“The Mother who says, ‘Oh, not my kid. He goes to church. He’s in the house on the computer, all the time. He’s getting good grades in school. He’s respectful; he doesn’t sag his pants; he doesn’t say disrespectful things,’” Sekou said.
“What I find is, so-called ‘good kids’ pull triggers too. They have to navigate a community where there are very few resources.”
In further efforts to get their message out, the NAN will be hosting an open mic session next Wednesday from 6 to 8 p.m., which is part of NAN’s Peace Week.