(U-WIRE) WASHINGTON – Kids growing up in Southeast Washington, D.C., have questions likely to boggle the savviest of spin artists here: Why was their neighborhood home to 106 homicides last year? Why were 24 of those victims younger than 18, compared with 12 the year before?
But the difficulty in finding answers to their questions makes them more important to ask, a group of local middle and high school students decided.
With the help of students at American University, teenagers in the organization Facilitating Leadership in Youth, or FLY, spent four months interviewing community activists, frustrated police, parents of crossfire victims, and peers who had entire groups of friends struck down with the pull of a trigger.
The result is “Why?: Guns Killin’ Youngins,” a magazine capturing their emotions, fears, and questions about the violence that surrounds them everyday.
About 2,000 copies of the magazine were printed and distributed through a $2500 grant from the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise. It can also be viewed for free on FLY’s Web site.
“I had a lot of people that were my friends get killed around Barry Farms,” Damien Owens told peer interviewer Keagoe Stith, a 13-year-old also from the Barry Farm community, whose rivalry with the Condon Terrace neighborhood has more than once turned deadly. “I mean, like one minute you see that person and the next minute they’re gone.”
Martin Jenkins, a 15-year-old attending Thurgood Marshall Academy Public Charter School, discussed the politics of gun ownership with a Virginia arms dealer.
Playing the role of reporter felt good, he said in an interview with the Washington Post. “Many people don’t listen to what I have to say,” he said.
Tiffany Lucas, a 13-year-old Southeast resident and FLY member, said local media outlets fail to expose the causes behind the trend of violence in their community.
“The media, when they talk about our community, and like D.C., they usually just talk about the bad stuff that’s happening and they don’t really go to the site,” she said. “Like, if something bad happens, they’re just like, ‘Oh, this happened somewhere.’ They don’t really go into detail of how it happened, why it happened.”
A large part of why the violence continues, members and student leaders agree, is the boredom that children in the neighborhood face day-to-day. The lack of constructive uses for their energy, they said, is what leads youth to join violent gangs.
“FLY opened up a world to me I never knew,” Lucas said. “Before FLY, I was at home and would never leave the community because my mom didn’t trust the outside because she didn’t think it was safe.”
Abby Parker, a justice major at American University, joined FLY as a counselor at the group’s summer camp. She now supervises its large tutoring operation.
“This program is just so important in so many ways,” she said.
But financial challenges have proved daunting for the organization over the last few years. The cut of a federal grant in 2003 that had been the foundation of the organization’s budget threatened to paralyze its influence in the Anacostia community. The group is now sustained through private donations and fund-raising efforts.
FLY members also take part in classes on self-expression through poetry and rap, effective interview techniques and they participate in community improvement projects such as public gardening.
A full version of the magazine can be downloaded from the FLY organization’s web site at http://www.flyyouth.com/.