City of Columbia set to kick off National Youth Violence Prevention Week

The city of Columbia is hosting its 12th annual National Youth Violence Prevention Week beginning Monday to educate young people and families about the impact of violence in the community.

City Councilwoman Tameika Isaac Devine again is leading efforts to bring attention to youth violence and change how teens respond to conflict.

“People [need] to recognize that it’s a community issue and not just a law enforcement issue,” Devine said. “When law enforcement gets involved that means that something bad is happening.”

Devine made youth violence prevention an important part of her platform nearly a decade ago when two young boys, Courtney Dixon and Terrence Merchant, were killed at T.S. Martin Park.

The deaths and the effect they had on the families of the two young men motivated Devine to look for solutions in other communities to address violent behavior among youth. National Youth Violence Prevention Week occurs in communities across the country around late March to early April.

The National Association of Students Against Violence Everywhere, along with The Guidance Channel, developed the campaign to engage teachers, principals, administrators and communities involved in preventing and reducing youth violence.

Devine said far too often people in the community get enraged for a moment when a tragedy happens but then move on when things settle. She wants to change that mindset.

“We need to be outraged all the time, not just when something like this happens,” she said. “Let’s stop responding to incidents when they happen and focus on what the week is about, which is preventing these incidents from happening.”

The city’s schedule of weeklong activities include seminars on cyber-bullying, gang violence and sexual assault. The South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice’s group The Insiders will return this year to encourage young people to stay away from crime. Devine said the event will be held at the Drew Wellness Center on Harden Street this year to make room for more people to attend.

A Violence Prevention Expo will offer resources for families to find alternative activities that keep children off the streets. Male empowerment groups associated with Mayor Steve Benjamin’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative will be on hand to mentor to young boys.

A new addition this year will be a panel discussion entitled “The Aftermath of Youth Violence” to give people the chance to ask questions about the effects that youth violence has had on their lives and families.

Devine said the discussion will emphasize the effect violent crime can have on families and the community long after an incident happens.

“Even if the perpetrator is arrested and ultimately is convicted and go to jail, these families — they’re still living this forever, the community — they’re still living this forever,” she said.

The week will end with a game night on which several of the city’s parks will stay open late hours so children can have a safe place to play.

“The best thing is knowing that positive intervention is important. That although we do this one week a year to emphasize this, these organizations and programs are there year-round,” Devine said. “We want people to support and engage them.”

National Youth Violence Prevention Week begins Monday. More information and a list of events can be found at the city’s website.

Categories: Richland County