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Those At Risk, And Those Who Have Lost, Long For Solutions

Determination Shown In Face Of Violence

April 17, 2005
By MARK SPENCER, Courant Staff Writer

A panel of community leaders and about 70 others engaged in collective soul searching Saturday afternoon about the causes of and solutions to youth violence.

Many of the participants expressed anger and frustration at the seemingly intractable culture of drugs and gun violence, including the recent wave of shootings of young people in Hartford.

After more than three hours, no one at the meeting in Weaver High School's auditorium pretended they had all the answers, but many vowed to continue the dialogue and engage city youth in it.

Former Weaver student Kirema Gilbert said she would have liked to see more people attend the meeting, but she did not want to dwell on it.

"It's about the energy right here, right now," she said.

The event was organized by Reggie Hatchett, a 26-year-old substitute teacher at Weaver, who said after the meeting that he would try to hold a similar citywide session for high school students.

The discussion Saturday ranged from the broad historical patterns that created the crucible for today's problems to everyday acts that can direct young people in a positive direction.

Minister Naeem Muhammad, the local representative of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, said 400 years of slavery had actively promoted the disintegration of black families. That legacy is reflected today in what he said was the significant percentage of black families headed by a single mother.

Carl Hardrick, who has spent decades working to stop gang violence, said the break-up of the family is reflected in the streets.

"What happens if you don't have a family?" he said. "Kids create their own."

Muhammad, minister at Hartford's Muhammad Mosque No. 14, said that the pain caused by the lack of strong families has led to high rates of drug abuse.

"People use drugs because they are in pain," he said. "Our people are in pain because of a lack of knowledge and love of self."

Terrie Williams, an author and president of a public relations agency in New York City, said that talking with young people about her own depression had helped them confront their problems.

"When an adult shares something like that, they will open up like you never imagined," she said.

Williams also is president of The Stay Strong Foundation, which encourages adults to mentor young people. She said that something as simple as taking a teenager to a business meeting opens a door for them to a different world.

"If we don't give our kids time, the system will," Williams said.

Some panelists disagreed about the role of pop culture, such as rap music and violent movies. Trevor Foster, an author and owner of Tru Books, said the schools should do more to educate teenagers and discourage them from emulating the attitudes of rap stars such as 50 Cent.

"No one's telling them, `Take your hat off, pull your pants up,'" he said.

But Jamie Hector, an actor on HBO's "The Wire," said concerned adults can use pop culture to engage young people in discussions, then direct their energies. He said "The Wire" is violent at times, but the recognition it has brought him provides a platform to help teenagers.

Hector admitted there were a lot of "wannabe 50 Cents" out there, but even the performer's violence-laden career could illustrate a positive point.

"Look, 50 Cent is very focused on what he is doing," he said.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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