LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) – The magnitude of violence, in terms of the number of victims, makes the bloodshed in WAVE Country a serious health issue.
It is an issue that traumatizes those who witness it or live in fear of it.
Beecher Terrace and the Algonquin and Shawnee neighborhoods in particular are areas where stories of violence and crime show up on nightly news and LMPD reports, but these west Louisville communities also are home to youth working to make a change for the better.
They are a group of pioneers, and they work part-time for the University of Louisville’s Office of Public Health Practice. The office is part of the UofL School of Public Health and Information Sciences. The students are between ages 16 and 24 and have been named the Louisville Youth Voices Against Violence fellows, and were hired through a grant from a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention grant.
“Knowledge is self,” fellow Elijah Thomas said.
The LYVV fellows are learning to love themselves by connecting with cultural history and racial-ethnic identity.
“We don’t realize that we are some of the greatest inventors within this country, that we’ve had some of the greatest contributions to this country,” Thomas said.
For 20 hours a week, the eight fellows are immersed in African-American history, while given daily opportunities for personal development in activism, advocacy and leadership.
“Why is our history omitted from school, but we get to learn a Eurocentric curriculum as well the legacy of slavery and that is solely it?” Thomas asked.
Monique Ingram is one of the many adult advisers to the group.
“They were hired to help reach the population that we as adults can’t necessarily reach,” Ingram said.
As the fellows reach out to other youth, they will also share the knowledge and self-confidence they have learned in the program.
“The work that we do is going to change the lives of people in our community,” fellow Jessica Murrah. “The knowledge that I get from it I can go out and I can empower others in my community.”
The youth fellows are working to break down the perception that violence is normal, accepted and expected, particularly among today’s young African-Americans.
“When people think about crime, you normally think of African-American individuals,” Ingram said. “While that’s not true, that’s the narrative and it is kind of the social norm.”
Added Murrah: “Not only are we trying to make a change in our community, we are also making a change within ourselves. I want to be a strong force that people can look up to.”
During their two-year fellowship, the students will help design and implement a campaign to change others’ perceptions about violence and ultimately destructive behaviors.
“Black on black crime is not a thing,” Thomas said. “It’s been statistically proven that people within the same vicinity of each other where resources are lacking tend to kill each other.”
Thomas added that the same type of violence can be seen in other low-income areas where African-Americans do not reside.
“Notice they never deem terms such as white-on-white crime or Asian-on-Asian crime,” Thomas said.
Ingram said he hopes the young fellows can help drive conversations that change perceptions.
“When they leave the program, they will be social agents for change in their communities,” she said.
Added fellow Treyvon Neely; “I share with everybody I see or every person I see. I try to definitely share. People have to link up. People have to come together.”
This opportunity of a lifetime for the eight fellows may also be the perfect chance for the Metro to watch and learn from a group of youth striving to make a difference.
“You can be anything you want,” Murrah said. “You don’t have to do the thing that other people are doing that are bad.”
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