By Rob Abruzzese
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Students from around Brooklyn gathered at Borough Hall on Wednesday as the New York City Department of Probation (DOP) hosted a daylong conference called “One Message Many Voices #BeAboutIt, Youth Anti-Violence Summit” to discuss ways to reduce gun violence among the young people in Brooklyn.
It was the fifth in a series conducted with the Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice and is a part of the mayor's citywide initiative to reduce gun violence. Organizers say that the style of meetings seem very effective in getting the students involved to promote alternatives to violence.
“It was important for us to put together a forum where we can speak collectively to come up with solutions to the issues surrounding gun violence,” said Karen Armstrong, assistant commissioner at the DOP of Brooklyn. “Young people don't always know that we are listening and paying attention to their issues, so we thought that we would bring everyone together to have a conversation about ways to address the violence.”
New York state Sen. Jesse Hamilton was on hand to give a message to the students and Dr. Divine Pryor gave the keynote speech. There was also a video presentation by Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams before a three-speaker panel, which included Maurice Winley, Chris Foye and West Gordon, discussed their own stories of how gun violence has affected their lives in a segment called, “Voices of Experience.”
“Gun violence has been around in my life and my community since I was a kid,” said Foye. “When I was around 23, my brother was shot. My thing was that I had to pick up a gun and I had to retaliate. In a brief moment my life had changed. I went out that door to go out in the streets and seek retribution, I wasn't home for four years and a few months later.”
While each of the three men had different stories, they all hit on the common theme that young people have a choice and don’t have to resort to gun violence even if they feel there is no other way.
“You have to understand the power of choice,” Winley said. “The choices that you make are the choices that you live by.”
While a good portion of the event was meant to send a message to the youth and get them talking, Wayne McKenzie, the general counsel to the DOP, challenged the adults in the room to do the right thing to encourage the youth.
“One of my favorite authors, James Baldwin, once said that, ‘The youth have often failed to listen to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them,’” McKenzie said. “So it is our fault and too often we use the criminal justice system as a cure for the failed elements of our society. It's not the cure, it's the symptom of what's wrong.
“So often we are part of the problem, and we are part of what's failing you,” McKenzie continued. “We tell you what to do and expect you to do it, but we never show you. We never help you and we're not there in the trenches with you. So that's why I'm so glad and fortunate to be a part of a department that is focusing more on social justice than criminal justice.”