Forum draws community response
By Mindy Cooper/ The Portland Observer
More than 50 members of the community, many who have been personally impacted by gang violence, attended a forum last week to say the time for action is now, or youth bloodshed will never come to an end.
The meeting Thursday at Jefferson High School had educators, policy makers, police officers and community members gathered together in an attempt to find solutions to the rising rate of youth gang-related violence within the city.
“This forum is so timely,” said Tina Bouillion, program director of LifeWorks Northwest, an organization dedicated to providing services to teenagers who suffer from behavioral and drug issues.
The first speaker of the evening asked for a raise of hands if anyone had been touched by youth violence. Within seconds, the majority of those within the room lifted their arms, looking around to see they were not alone.
“How many still feel something can be done about it?” he added.
Once more, arms rose quietly into the air.
According to Oscar Gilson, an administrator for Jefferson’s Middle College Program, the issues of youth violence are very “close to home.”
Jefferson Principal Margaret Calvert said gang-related activity has made her position challenging, but the violence throughout the surrounding neighborhoods does not reflect the quality of her school.
“Here at Jefferson we need to be good neighbors,” she said.
Calvert said there is a need for the community to create more opportunities for youth outside of school.
A panel of respected individuals and stakeholders had their own perspectives of how to combat the issues before opening the floor to the rest of the attendees in the room.
Information tables for organizations, including Big Brother Big Sister and Connection, along with pamphlets on community resources were provided to help people become more involved and network for change.
Although there were multiple perspectives on which tactics could truly make a difference to curb the violence within the community, everyone agreed that something needs to change, and words are no longer enough.