Each fall Youth Organizing to Save Our Streets (YO S.O.S.) welcomes a new cohort of high school students intent on becoming leaders in the anti-gun violence movement. This year’s cohort of 18 youth come from 5 Central Brooklyn neighborhoods and 10 different schools. They have been trained to have a deeper understanding of the roots of violence, conflict escalation factors and deescalation strategies, trauma, self-care, social justice, and community organizing. In December, the group utilized their training to put on their first community event, titled “A Flare to Remember,” which took place on December 17th and was attended by 40+ people.
Youth Organizers wanted to create an event for teens and the neighborhood at large that would provide a space to both honor those injured and killed by gun violence and to celebrate life and community. They began the evening with introductions and remarks from Rev Jones, who spoke about the Save Our Streets Clergy Action Network and the ways in which it supports community members who have lost loved ones to gun violence. The youth then presented Rev Jones with six gift baskets they had assembled for the families. Each included small items and a card with condolence messages.
Next, the youth facilitated a “cross the line” exercise that asked members to walk across the room if statements were true to them. Statements asked about guests’ experiences with violence as well as their ideas about the possibility for change. This was followed by a debrief conversation and then transitioned into the “celebrating life” portion of the night. Next, guest performers from Teacher’s Prep High School shared their talents dancing, singing, and rapping, and a youth guest from Kings Against Violence Initiative shared a powerful spoken word poem.
The event closed with time for everyone to mix and mingle, dance, make customized buttons, play games, take photos, and write names on the wall of remembrance. Although the event was organized with a somber theme in mind, everyone was also able to find joy in one another’s company and end on a high note.