Addressing the Negative Impacts of Community Violence During COVID-19: Violence Prevention and Restorative Justice
The third and last youth conference took place on December 15th 2020 on Zoom and covered the tough topic of violence and its impact on our community, and especially our youth. We see familiar faces leading this conference – talented leaders that will positively impact other lives one day – Liana Parish, Griffen Castillo, Chloe Armstead, and Jonathan Piper II. But we also get to know several new young people that leave us amazed with their resilience, sense of optimism and most importantly, their messages for us as adults.
In this conference, we learn about important programs that address violence and offer a pathway towards healing and restorative justice. With a 40% increase in homicides in Oakland since 2019, after a long streak of decreased violence, these organizations are as important as ever.
Joshua Rogers introduces Youth Alive, an organization that focuses on breaking the cycle of violence through prevention, intervention and healing. One of its programs is called Teens on Target (TNT) which trains high school students and young adults from neighborhoods with high levels of violence to be peer educators. They share their stories and experience with other kids and help them through their challenges.
Kimberly Higareda, a Fremont High student is part of TNT and her passion for her community shows. She emphasizes the importance of giving kids the space in school to not only talk about academics, but also open the conversation to the things happening in their homes and neighborhoods. This is especially important during this pandemic, when kids are unable to interact in person with their friends. Kimberly shared a slide that lists several resources for young people in Oakland (insert slide).
Valeria Ahumada from Oakland Technical High School introduces another program in the Oakland schools called Restorative Justice (RJ), a set of principles and practices used to build community, respond to harm/conflict and provide individual circles of support for students. RJ understands that conflict is a normal art of being human and focuses on building people up instead of tearing them down. This video shows the powerful impact of this program for students at Fremont High.
Kenny Johnson is a victim of gun violence and plays basketball in a wheelchair. He is an awe-inspiring person who demonstrates that adversity doesn’t have to stand in the way of doing our best at all times. He motivates all attendees to keep a positive mindset during these challenging times. Staying active and being patient are his key ingredients to getting through the days and his recommendation for all of us: Never take life for granted and try to help the community. Kron 4 TV showcased his resilience.
Towards the end of the conference, we hear from three adults that are active creating change in our communities. VanCedric Williams, educator and newly elected OUSD Board member representing District 3, West Oakland, Regina Jackson, CEO East Oakland Youth Development Center and Chair of Police Commission and Dr. Clifford Thompson, newly elected OUSD Board member for District 7, East Oakland. Regina’s work building bridges between the community and the Police department stands out as critical, especially in a time when police violence spans the headlines regularly in our media. She is on a mission to create a paradigm shift by helping police officers see all people as people first. Through her work with the officers, she gives community perspective around the trauma that people live through and how it shows up. She takes her focus on young people to the police and appeals to a culture of compassion first and foremost. Her big wish is that the community can trust the police again.
And to end this conference, we experience a wonderful message from Oakland artists Wolf Hawk Jaguar, Santos Soul, and Dr. Lynne Morrow as they present their song from Oakland to the rest of the world: “I Love You!. Their performance says it all: I love you.
Resources for Oakland youth include:
By Janine Grossmann @ Quest For You
Some lose control, some lose hope,
Others need time to adjust.
Living in confusion and trying to cope
While the question burns:
“When will it end and turn to dust?”
We may never know the coming future
Nor can we ever change the past.
But let’s make the best of things as we endure
For nothing is ever permanent;
Nothing can forever last.
Excerpt from poem titled Trying Times by May M. Phyu
The second youth conference, just like the first one, was hosted in partnership with amazing youth leaders and a coalition of community-based organizations called the Oakland Frontline Healers (OFH).
The objective of this conference was to highlight the challenges students have had with distance learning, isolation and mental health.
Students expressed themselves creatively through art, poetry and the spoken word, communicating challenges such as:
However, our next generation does not stop with obstacles. They look for solutions, offer innovative ideas and effective coping mechanisms to not only get through these tough times, but also to improve our lives overall. Nikko Cabrera, a student at Oakland Tech speaks about how being part of the Attitudinal Healing Connection, a West Oakland non-profit focused on art and creativity as a means of healing, has helped build valuable life skills. AHC operates by 12 principles that serve as a guide for maintaining wellness in our daily lives. Nikko shared principle #8 with the conference attendees because he considers it extremely relevant and helpful for the current situation of isolation and uncertainty.
All principles play an important role in Nikko’s life and contribute to his sense of emotional well-being. Other activities that he finds important and engages in regularly are meditation and breathing methods, which is fascinating as it is something many adults struggle finding time and focus for. I was particularly impressed and touched by this young man’s insight on the different effects of the pandemic, depending on whether one is an introvert or an extrovert. Nikko, an introvert, shares a touching example where he almost lost a friend, who, as an extrovert, needed more of Nikko’s attention and time than Nikko needed from him. He also shares some of his art work which played an important part in his healing journey from some personal difficulties.
Art is a powerful tool for our young to cope with challenging times, and the adults should take note. Griffen Castillo, another voice for the youth, uses art in the form of the spoken word to express his thoughts:
“but that’s the way it goes, the way life flows,
a flower grows amidst the cold of its own soul again,
the concrete cracks and now we’re back
to where we’re from. so feel the thrum
of beating drums. and know that you are worthy
of the throne you seek, on which to rest your feet
cuz we ain’t rest for weeks,
and that don’t make you weak.
so when life gets bleak
Youth speaker and advocate Jonathan Piper II presented critical key statistics that paint a picture on the “State of the Youth” and he calls on adult leaders, some of whom are present, to speak to the actions they are taking. In the below slide, his call to action captures vital points:
The adults speaking at the end of the conference, Mr. Michael Scott, Principal of Castlemont High School, Ms. Lisa Carlisle, Director for Children and Young Adult System of Care for Alameda County, Mr. Matin Abdel-Qawi, Superintendent for all OUSD high school principals, applauded the students on their creativity, relevancy and the importance of the information they presented. They acknowledge the need to pause and listen to young people because they can clearly articulate what is needed. This second conference sends a strong message to all of us: Academics are not everything. In a critical time as we are living though now, the social and emotional needs of the students also need to be considered. And this may require more than just a laptop and a functioning Internet connection. Our youth need a lot more personal attention and care so they can thrive.
By Janine Grossmann @ Quest For You
I am Yafet Aklilu and I am part of Vision Quilt’s Teen Council in Oakland, California. I attend Lighthouse Community Charter School in Oakland California, and I will be talking about what it feels like being an African American in America. As a young black man, I wonder what encounters with the police and racist people will be like. I wonder if I’ll end up another statistic along with #sayhisname. I wonder if I’ll ever be held at gunpoint for a non-legitimate reason. Lastly, I wonder if things will change in America or my future children have to worry about these same fears.
America was built on systematic racism/oppression and wasn’t made for black people to succeed. I believe that black people in America face oppression and unfair treatment because of racist laws that have been implemented before and after Jim Crow. As many black Americans will tell you, being black means you're already a criminal in some police officers’ eyes. It’s sad that Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X, and many more black people died fighting for equal rights but systematic racism and police brutality is still a problem.
For my Vision Quilt panel that I created in 7th grade (2019), my image is a picture of a black man putting his hands up and a quote from Malcolm X. The hands up sign and the quote from Malcolm X are related to police brutality. I chose the Malcolm X quote because it sends a strong message about police brutality. “If someone puts their hands on you make sure that they never put their hands on anybody else again.” The image also has years of when innocent black people were killed by cops which are also related to police brutality. The words I chose was to show the number of black people who are yearly killed by cops for no reason. I want someone to know that a lot of innocent black people are getting killed by cops for no reason. There should be stricter gun laws for the police and communities because neither cops nor community members need guns.
My Vision Quilt panel means a lot to me because it sends a strong message about police brutality. We can prevent police brutality by better training and police must be randomly tested for illegal drugs. We can also prevent police brutality by regularly testing police for racial bias and banning violence usage based on their imagination of a threat. This ban would look like questioning the threat as any other civilian unless there is clear evidence they are a threat.
I hope that my Vision Quilt panel can raise awareness about police brutality. I also hope that my Vision Quilt panel can impact police and people who are against police brutality.
In conclusion, not all police officers are racist or kill innocent black people, I’ve seen multiple acts of kindness from police officers towards black people. I also hope that all of the peaceful protests cause change because many black people (including me) are tired of the injustice we're still receiving.
Last week our partners Attitudinal Healing Connection (AHC) launched their stunning online exhibition "Planting the Seeds of Change," featuring artwork from Oakland youth and families.
Vision Quilt collaborated with ArtEsteem and the Khadafy Washington Foundation on two of the exhibition's gallery rooms.
It is powerful to see Oakland youth depicting themselves as Super Heroes; Black families honoring loved ones lost to gun violence; and West Oakland Middle School youth responding to gun violence in their communities.
The ArtEsteem Vision Quilt Gallery
Included in AHC's online exhibition "Planting the Seeds of Change" is the ArtEsteem Vision Quilt Gallery, online now through July 13th.
The ArtEsteem Vision Quilt room also features a video introduction from Kenneth Johnson, a co-teacher in the ArtEsteem Vision Quilt program. "I hope," Kenneth says to viewers, "you will be moved, transformed, and motivated as you feel the spirit of these Oakland youth. "
Double-click on videos to view their contents. The virtual exhibition is best viewed on a computer or laptop. For further instructions on viewing, click here.
Vision Quilt panels from West Oakland Middle School students: "Innocents Die" by Susana Calmo and "Stopping Killing Families" by Malaki Tubby.
The Khadafy Washington Foundation Gallery
The work in the second Vision Quilt Gallery was facilitated by Marilyn Washington Harris and the Khadafy Washington Foundation.
Vision Quilt and the Khadafay Washington Foundation received grants from Oakland Unite and the Akonadi Foundation to work with gun violence survivors in West Oakland and beyond.
Although our original plans were changed due to COVID-19, Marilyn Washington Harris was able to host a panel making workshop for twelve families who had lost their sons and daughters to gun violence.
We are honored to work with Marilyn Washington Harris. After losing her own son, Khadafy Washington, Mrs. Marilyn dedicated her life to supporting families who had lost a loved one to gun violence.
“At the time of Khadafy’s death, I realized that the city of Oakland was missing something — because I was missing something," explains Mrs. Marilyn.
"Not only was I missing my son, I was missing the fact that nobody came to my rescue... So I began to do for mothers and fathers what no one had done for me. I began to reach out to help them.”
At a time when our country is crying out for Black Lives, the Khadafy Gallery honors these families and their stories.
Vision Quilt panel created by Anita Cole to honor her daughter Anika Crane.
"Planting the Seeds of Change" exemplifies the creativity, resilience, and heartbreak that runs through Oakland. We urge you to visit the exhibition, and share it with your friends.
Vision Quilt is honored by our partnerships with AHC, the Khadafy Washington Foundation, and the youth and families creating art and telling their stories. We are grateful to our volunteers and staff supporting this work.
After the conclusion of the exhibition, Vision Quilt will continue to display the panels in workshops, galleries, exhibition spaces, and through our online Virtual Quilt. Share this newsletter with friends and make a donation to support our work. As described by Andrew Vega, one of the Youth Ambassador curating the exhibition, the gallery “showcases textile art pieces created by students that express the awareness, loss, and passion that surrounds the issue of gun violence in their homes, families, and communities.
Vision Quilt is proud to share our newest video, "Amplifying Voices: Building Partnerships to End Gun Violence." The four minute video focuses on our partnerships with schools, grassroots organizations and community leaders in places like Oakland and Chicago.
Vision Quilt empowers communities to create their own solutions to gun violence through the power of art and inclusive dialogue.
Partnerships are at the heart of our work. "Amplifying Voices" showcases some of our partners, including: Adamika Village, The Ark of St. Sabina, Catholic Charities East Bay, Lighthouse Community Charter School, MOMS Demand Action, Oakland Violence Prevention Coalition, Women in Need of Discovering Their Own Worth, Youth ALIVE!
Share this video with friends, and learn how you can support our work in 2020!
This 2018 midterm election season, Vision Quilt has been active in supporting youth groups in getting out the vote. The youth led Empower Coalition is shaping a new future by bringing their #PowerToThePolls. Under the umbrella of the Women’s March Youth Empower, Vision Quilt is collaborating with over 100 organizations and youth groups to address critical issues on this year’s ballot. Youth and college toolkits were offered to encourage students to launch voter registration drives on their campuses.
Working through a national online network, the Empower Coalition created teams to develop a strategic social media campaign. Our goal is to encourage young people to learn more about areas of legislation that will affect their future. Along with the Brady Campaign to End Gun Violence, MOMS Demand Action, Students Demand Action, Giffords Courage Campaign and the Parkland students’ #Road to Change, Vision Quilt promoted voter registration and education on legislation around gun reform. Vision Quilt is a non-partisan organization, but we are committed to preventing gun violence and youth empowerment.
Team Enough is creating an inclusive platform for young people to speak out about gun violence prevention. Visit https://www.teamenough.org/who-we-are/ to learn more about Team Enough and the work they are doing to challenge gun violence in America.
Vision Quilt urges people of all ages to go the polls to vote for Gun Sense candidates. Over 2,200 Gun Sense candidates are on the ballot on November 6.
PLEASE VOTE- we need to elect candidates who will commit to end gun violence.
Note: This blog is the second of two entries about Vision Quilt’s experiences in working with students at Lighthouse Community Charter School in Oakland, California. In the first entry, Founder Cathy DeForest shared her thoughts on working with students in the classroom. In this blog, Board Member Jack Harbaugh shares what it was like at the student exhibition.
By Jack Harbaugh,
Vision Quilt Board Member
What an inspiring day. The eighth graders from Lighthouse Community Charter School were hosting an exhibition at E 14, a cool, new art gallery in Oakland. You could see and hear their excitement as they set up for the event that evening. The exhibition was the culmination of their three-month learning expedition on gun violence. Vision Quilt had been an important part of this journey, and many of the panels created by the students would be on display.
Families and friends of the students were invited to attend so there was a lot of pride and energy as they went about their tasks of getting the various booths constructed, the musical instruments set up and tuned, and the information tables organized.
The students were curating the exhibition themselves, and while the teachers were there to give direction and lend a hand, the eighth graders were responsible for getting everything ready for the event.
They also prepared themselves to be docents for that evening, rehearsing what they would say to each guest as they viewed each exhibit.
By Cathy DeForest, Vision Quilt Founder
Sometimes there is a moment when you realize the work you are doing matters. It is making a difference. You can see it, feel it, hear it in the voices of those around you. This is happening for me every time I walk into Lighthouse Community Charter School in Oakland, California.
Over the past couple months, Vision Quilt has been working with 7th and 8th grade students and teachers at the school as they study gun violence. It is an extraordinary three-month expeditionary learning program, and Vision Quilt is honored to be a part of it.
We are sharing the mission of Vision Quilt with these young students and we are working with them as they made their own panels. Many of these students are exposed to gun violence on a regular basis and to hear them talk about it is powerful and sobering.
We want to share a quick photo blog from the Women's March in Ashland, Oregon. There was a huge gathering for our little town-- a great feeling of community and support. Dozens of people chose to wear Vision Quilt panels as they marched. Gun violence is a women's issue!
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