Kids in Pierce County are confronting the community's violent reputation. The county has seen mass arrests of gang members, many of them teens, and is too often in the news as the scene of tragic shooting deaths. A coalition of local groups has embarked on a multi-year effort to provide kids alternatives to violence.
Their work is aimed at involving and empowering local youth to help lead the campaign and carry it forward. Dominique Lewis, who is 19, says the problem for his fellow teenagers usually begins at home.
"They really want to be accepted, and most of the time they're not even accepted by their parents," says the athletic and friendly Tacoma native.
Lewis organized a way for them to find belonging through a dance group. Otherwise he says its too easy to find that bond with friends involved with gangs.
"Well with those friends come baggage, so most of them get caught up in it and not even know they're getting caught up in it," he adds.
Lewis dance group became popular in Tacoma. He was recruited to be an organizer for the Pierce County-wide Youth Against Violence program. It sponsored a series of forums where teenagers could tell adults what their community needs.
Rose Lincoln Hamilton heads the Greater Tacoma Community Foundation, the initiative's lead sponsor.
"Tacoma and Pierce County has a national reputation for violence. We're good at it here, and that's not what we want to be known as," says Hamilton.
They began to tackle the problem with community leaders, she says. But it wasn't until they began asking youth organizers to take a leadership role in the effort that they realized they'd come across the right approach.
"It really is having a youth board, made up of kids who have experienced violence and being a sounding board for how programs in our community can change over time by listening to the youth voice," she says.
Ideas include finding collaborators to operate after-school and after-hours music clubs and performance spaces, conducting youth surveys, and promoting mentoring programs that teach respect and non-violence. Now that they have a list of ideas, the search is on for funding.
Pacific Lutheran University and the University of Puget Sound are partners in the effort, as are a mix of government and nonprofit agencies across Pierce County.
In May, the kids will deliver a report to Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The 78-year old Nobel Peace Prize winner will make what is likely his final international public appearance on May 13th at the Tacoma Dome, culminating more than a year of the Youth Against Violence program.Tutu's office announced last week the Archbishop will wind down his international schedule after his Tacoma visit. Tickets for the event will go on sale after the new year.
For more information about the Youth Against Violence program, click HERE.