Gun violence spurs community engagement
July 16th, 2015
Omaha, NE – Gun violence is on the decline in the City of Omaha as a whole. But in North Omaha, gun violence figures have climbed during May and June. How do grass roots neighborhood events engage the community and help spur positive effects? KVNO’s Brandon McDermott takes a look and filed this report.
Of the 59 gun assaults that have taken place in Omaha this year, 28 have transpired in North Omaha, a little less than half.[audio:https://kvnonews.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/final1.mp3]
Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert and Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer spoke last week about the spike in gun violence over May and June. Schmaderer told local media that the violence is attributed to ‘a small percentage of our population that’s gang members who are ruining it for the entire city.’
What can be done to stop the violence? That is what Allen Stevenson asked himself nearly five years ago when he first started thinking about organizing an event to help youngsters take their minds off the violence. Stevenson also belongs to The Light Poetic Ministry a non-profit who host poetry readings and fundraising events. Last weekend the event came to fruition at Benson High school in Omaha, in the form of Ballin’ to Serve.
Ballin’ to Serve is a four team basketball tournament where kids and families are invited to watch some action on the court and connect with community groups and organizations.
“This is our answer to the community, the violent acts and the horrible stuff you’ve been seeing. This is us saying hey, let’s fight back.”
Stevenson said Ballin’ to Serve is a way for youth to see there are positive things for them get into. Ballin’ to Serve offers an outlet for those trapped in gangs.
“Going out to the city and reaching out to those who may have the ties to the streets, we want them to come. So that it can basically be like ‘Hey this is an alternative to whatever it is you’ve got going’.”
Dan Hawkins is an associate professor of sociology at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. He said letting kids know the community or the neighborhood cares about them can be really important. He said there are things that can be done to help get kids out of poverty and off the streets.
“We don’t have to live in a country where one in five kids live in poverty, right? We are the richest country on earth; we can do things about that. I would say we could improve all children’s lives and not let it get to that point.”
Community activist and author Preston Love Jr. agrees, in his book Economic Cataracts, he discusses the systemic issue of poverty in Omaha and the importance of civic education in youngsters. He grew up in Omaha and attended old Tech High. When he returned to Omaha in 2004 he was devastated.
“I was brought to my knees with the status and state of my beloved North Omaha. I remember when it was a vibrant community, in all ways.”
He said having something meaningful to fill kids’ heads is just as important as holding events.
“Filling their time with things that they enjoy, keeping them active and therefore keeping them away from getting in trouble, I’m very supportive of that. However, I feel that where the missing link is on that is, you’ve got to fill their brains with things other than dribbling, while you’re doing the dribbling.”
Hawkins agreed with Love on the importance of expanding kids’ minds while playing basketball. He also added that the messenger is just as vital as the message.
“Adults don’t remember back to their favorite teacher as being somebody who is the best at teaching them how to take a test. They remember them as somebody who really cared about them as a person.”
Gatherings like Ballin’ to Serve also provide a platform for other groups like Families of the Stolen (FOTS), a community group dedicated to the remembrance of unsolved murder victims. Omahan Buffy Bush created FOTS after her sister Jamelia Hesseltine and her boyfriend Carl Reed were gunned down in 2011, murders still yet unsolved.
“At the end of the day, there is someone who loved those people. At the end of the day we are the ones left with the pain. We’re the ones left with the burden of having to bury our loved ones. Having to deal with the fact that their murderers are still walking the streets, having to look over our shoulders wondering ‘are you the one who murderer my loved one?’ That’s what we go through.”
Back at Benson High Ballin’ to Serve organizer Allen Stevenson said the event was a success showing those who participated they truly are on the same team.
“Instead of pointing fingers, it’s like ‘hey we are here and we are together.’ The main purpose is unity.”
More than 100 people turned out to Ballin’ to Serve last weekend. Groups that attended Ballin’ to Serve were: Families of the Stolen, Sparks Academy, Positive Productive Black Fathers, North Omaha Chess Academy and Club, 402 BBQ, Lady T’s Cupcakes and More, Family Housing Advisory Services, Small Guy Promotions, Positive Energy, Women’s Center for Advancement and Promoter Alley.
Extended Preston Love Jr. Interview
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