Monday, October 19, 2009

Tony's Blog: It's not paranoia if they really are shooting at you

Gun shots ring out, then silence, then sirens. He is several blocks from the safety of home. That’s dangerous when “shit’s goin down”. So, he runs to get off the streets, not knowing if the next bullet has his name on it. The police show up and do a sweep, picking up all young males in the area. They know him. He has a record and is on probation. So, even though he’s been doing well lately and there is no evidence connecting him to the shooting, the assumption is guilty until proven innocent.

Imagine what it would be like to live where the sound of gunshots are a normal occurrence. The youth that we work with (the vast majority not gang involved) and their families don’t have to imagine. You don’t have to go to the Middle East for that experience. Just drive a few miles down the freeway from Beverly Hills or Santa Monica. The sounds of helicopters (ghetto birds), police sirens, gunshots, fighting and yelling are all too common. In fact, epidemiologists have determined that children in South Central Los Angeles exhibit higher levels of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) than children in Baghdad, Iraq. If it’s not the local gang banger causing you stress it’s the local police bashing in your door at 3am looking for him or just the normal chaos of life bereft of resources.

Among the dozen or so other calls from young people over the course of this weekend two were from kids just taken to prison, one just kicked out of his auntie’s house, a teenage girl struggling to raise her child and a boy who was nervous about taking his SATs (every once in a while you get an easy one).

…and yet these young people get up every day and make their way to school, make their way to our program sessions, babysit little brothers and sisters, look for jobs to help support their families and take care of each other. They also find time to fit in the things that normal teenagers do. Hang out and listen to music; go to parties; fight with their parents; have crushes; get their hearts broken; get over it and try again; etc. Resiliency is one commodity that exists in abundance in the hood. I am often in awe of these kids.

As a society we are not doing enough about the conditions that these young people live in. However, we know from first hand experience how mentoring makes a huge difference. 96% of our kids will graduate compared to 23-45% of their peers (depending upon which numbers you believe). Last Tuesday 27 of our young people visited Paramount Studios to meet 27 caring volunteers that would be their mentors. It was our first session of the year. We returned to school to find it on lock-down because there was a shooting. A young girl was apparently caught in the cross-fire of a gang shooting and was hit in the hip and hospitalized. Well, I guess we won’t be easing our way into that program. It’s on. We’ll deal with it in our next group session.

This Thursday we will take 100 boys and girls up to the mountains for our Mentee Initiation Retreat. I’m looking forward to seeing their shoulders drop and knowing that for four days there will be no gunshots, sirens or arrests.

With love and hope,


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