Saving Our Youth
By Aronya Waller
“The COVID-19 pandemic has taken an extraordinary toll on youth and families, amplifying stressful situations and exacerbating a variety of factors that can increase a youth’s likelihood of delinquent behavior. But we are not powerless in the face of these challenging circumstances: we can take action to strengthen supports for youth and families, building on lessons learned from the pandemic as well as decades of research on effective practices for preventing delinquency.”
—Maria Mossaides, Director of the Office of the Child Advocate and Chair of the Juvenile Justice Policy and Data Board
Violence in this country has increased nationwide, especially since the start of the pandemic. Whether the violence is due to mental health, economic issues, or social disparities, it has had a devastating impact on our communities. This is not just a big city or urban issue, which is many times coded to mean an issue only caused by people of color. Rather, we also are seeing an uptick in violence in the suburbs, rural areas, and reservations. We have seen mass violence events in schools and community events. There are also targeted attacks on our families, friends, neighbors, and political officials.
Based on the media, you would believe there was also a significant spike in violence by and affecting children. According to The Sentencing Project, however, youth crimes have decreased by more than half during the past two decades, including the number of serious violent offenses. The number of youth-involved homicides has indeed increased along with the national average, but it is still lower than in previous years. This does not diminish that 7.5% of 2020 homicide arrests involved children. We need to find ways to ensure that all crimes committed by children continue to decrease in the upcoming years.
There is not one answer to fix the violence. The answer does not fall completely on the federal, state, or local governments. The violence cannot be stopped completely by grassroots and community organizations. The solution does not fall upon one parent, guardian, or teacher. While I cannot say that I have all the answers, I do know that community programs help keep children off the streets—or sidewalks, country roads, and trails. It helps stop the “cradle to prison” pipeline, and the earlier it begins, the more positive outcomes can be seen.
Positive youth development models decrease juvenile violence by addressing the six life domains of work, education, relationships, community, health, and creativity. According to youth.gov, the two key assets needed by all youth are learning/doing and attaching/belonging. We all need to work together to provide children with the opportunity to develop positive behaviors. Youth programs help prevent crime and violence. It is pertinent for our youth to have safe spaces where they can receive education and training, mentorship, and work with the community. There are a variety of programs available, and each one has its niche. You will see the diverse types of programs available below that can help the youth in our communities. We must support our local youth programs, whether they are school-based or nonprofit, and advocate for more funding from all levels of government.
Los Angeles, CA
Meztli Projects is an Indigenous-based arts and culture collaborative center that addresses the lack of creative opportunities for Native/Indigenous Artists and systems-impacted youth. It uses culturally-authentic programs and workshops, training, for-hire opportunities, and advocacy for equitable resources.
San Antonio, TX
SAY Sí is an arts organization that offers a variety of arts programs for middle and high school students, with a specific focus on empowering marginalized communities and advancing culture. Specialties include visual arts, media arts, theatre, new media, and mentorship. SAY Sí ignites the creative power of young people to become forces of positive change.
Los Angeles, CA
Self Help Graphics & Art fosters the creation and advancement of new art by Chicana/o and Latinx artists through experimental and innovative printmaking techniques and other visual art forms. Self Help Graphics & Art offers after-school, summer, and lab programs for youth and young adults, with a focus on the intersection of arts and social justice.
New Orleans, LA
The Roots of Music empowers youth five days a week, year-round. The program teaches youth ages 9-14 music history and theory, as well as instrumental instruction that is unique to the culture of New Orleans. In addition to music education, The Roots of Music provides academic support, mentorship, hot meals, and round-trip transportation.
Washington, DC, and California
Sound Impact provides programming for incarcerated youth that combines live performance with arts-integrated education during transformative residencies at juvenile detention centers. Its three-day residency focuses on youth development by providing opportunities to increase self-confidence and overcome traumatic events. Each residency culminates in a joint performance, fusing the youth's words with Sound Impact’s live music.
Detroit & Flint, MI, and Nationally
Sphinx Organization is a social justice organization dedicated to transforming lives through the power of diversity in the arts. Its Education & Access program develops and supports diversity and inclusion in classical music. Sphinx Organization provides programming and scholarships for solo and chamber music performances. It provides year-round beginner instrumental instruction in Detroit and Flint, a summer program for Detroit students, and a national summer intensive for Black and Latinx youth ages 11 to 17.
Social Justice and Community Change
Norris Square Neighborhood Project
Norris Square Neighborhood Project (NSNP) is an organization that offers youth a safe space to explore cultural and social justice issues, create art, and develop their sustainable-agriculture skills. Youth develop leadership skills, learn about urban agriculture and sustainable-agricultural skills, and create performing and visual arts. NSNP empowers high school students through its after-school, summer, and paid apprenticeship programs.
San Antonio, TX
The Southwest Workers Union’s educational department is the Youth Leadership Organization (YLO). It uses an intergenerational model that strives to develop young leaders to engage in local and global social justice campaigns to create change. YLO focuses on communities of color and has programming for people between the ages of 12 and 18. Members participate throughout the year in workshops, marches, protests, and arts and music projects.
Camden & Pennsauken, NJ, and Philadelphia, PA
VietLead is a grassroots community organization that focuses on the Vietnamese and Southeast Asian communities in Philadelphia and South Jersey. There is a variety of youth programming that focuses on intergenerational farming, youth organizing, and civic engagement. It has an internship that explores the intersectionality of food and social justice, their community’s history, and how to support food justice. There are also after-school programs focused on social justice for students in South Jersey and Philadelphia. Students learn and advocate for the issues impacting themselves and their communities.
The Orlando Science Center is Central Florida’s award-winning, hands-on science museum. The STEM Discovery Center is the educational hub of the Science Center. With inclusive programming starting in preschool, the Orlando Science Center has multiple educational opportunities, including camps, school programs, science competitions, and continuing education for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) teachers.
The Out4STEM program is an after-school internship that aims to provide Philadelphia’s LGBTQIA+ youth with healthcare and STEM-oriented instruction, mentorship, academic support, and college/career preparation in an inclusive, safe space. Philadelphia high school students have the opportunity to learn about STEM, healthcare, and the career opportunities they provide.
Girls of Color
The Evoluer House is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the well-being and leadership of girls of color in the Philadelphia region. It equips and empowers girls of color with the essential tools to break cycles of intergenerational poverty. With a focus on girls of color aged 13 to 18, its programs are designed to promote emotional, mental, and social well-being. They equip these girls with the tools they need to become college-bound and career-ready and help to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty.
Boys of Color
New York, NY
All Star Code is a nonprofit computer science education organization focused on helping young Black and Latino men. Using coding and technology as its vessel, All Star Code prepares members for financial independence, social mobility, and innovative change to close the wealth, income, and opportunity gaps. They provide year-round and summer programs.
Beales, Monique. How violent crime has gone up since the pandemic. February 15, 2022. The Hill. https://thehill.com/policy/national-security/594291-how-violent-crime-has-gone-up-since-the-pandemic/
Mendel, Richard. Data Reveals Violence Among Youth Under 18 Has Not Spiked in the Pandemic. The Sentencing Project. June 14, 2022. Policy Brief.
New Report Highlights Negative Impacts of Pandemic on Youth, Makes Recommendations to Prevent Future Delinquency. Office of the Child Advocate, Massachusetts. October 6, 2021. Press Release. https://www.mass.gov/news/new-report-highlights-negative-impacts-of-pandemic-on-youth-makes-recommendations-to-prevent-future-delinquency
youth.gov. Prevention and Early Intervention. https://youth.gov/youth-topics/juvenile-justice/prevention-and-early-intervention