By Jamal Watson
More than 200 young people and their parents converged on the Grove Park Recreation Center today to participate in an anti-violence summit sponsored by the National Action Network’s Youth Move.
The day-long event titled “Shake off the Violence” drew in students from the Atlanta area and as far away as Chicago and Detroit. In between musical and dance performances, the youngsters spent much of the day strategizing about how they can become change agents and help deter gang violence in their own neighborhoods.
It’s an issue that the National Action Network, under the direction of its national executive director, Tamika D. Mallory has tacked for the past few years. Mallory attended the summit to lend her support to the young community organizers.
“You are here because you are a part of the change,” said Dominique Sharpton, the national membership director for the civil rights organization that her father, the Reverend Al Sharpton, founded in 1991. “It’s really time for us to put the guns down and stop being ignorant and immature. Everyone here is created to be a positive person.”
The anti-violence summit was the brainchild of Mary Pat Hector, the president of Youth Move, which has become the youth wing of the National Action Network. Founded less than a year ago, Hector said that young people across the country have expressed an interest in joining and have a local membership in Atlanta of about fifty people.
The idea for a national organization came about after Hector phoned Reverend Sharpton’s radio show looking for assistance and guidance.
“I told him that National Action Network needed something for the young people,” said Hector, 14, who just completed her first-year of high school earlier this month. “He understood what I was saying and he agreed to work with me to help make this a reality.”
Hector said that Youth Move now has chapters in nine U.S. cities and its membership continues to grow.
Marcus Coleman, the president of the Atlanta Chapter of the National Action Network said that his chapter has assisted Hector in planning the summit, which was co-sponsored by New Look Foundation, the organization started by singer Usher. In light of the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, Coleman facilitated a panel discussion with parents that focused on the “Stand Your Ground” laws in Florida and other states across the country. Panelists shared suggestions on how better parents might be able to educate their children on how they should interface with police and aggressive gun-owners.
But the focus for much of the day remained on the youth.
Many of those in attendance said that they appreciated the opportunity to have a space and forum where they could network and strategize with other young people about the issues of the day.
“We are not all lazy and apathetic,” said seventeen-year-old Brandon G. Trotter of Atlanta. “I’m tired of seeing so many people dying right in my own neighborhood.”
Hector, an activist, who was recently selected to serve as Atlanta’s mayor for day, said that she remains encouraged by the young people who remain committed to civil rights work and said that the summit was just the first of many events that Youth Move will sponsor.
“Despite what anyone says, I think young people want to be involved,” she said. “We just have to go out and get them and meet them where they are.”