Monday, December 28, 2020

West Side Group Engages Youth To Help Oppose Violence

Youth Opposed to Violence Everywhere, a West Side grassroots organization seeks to quell violence.
By Reyna Estrada

When Tiarra Collins was pregnant with her son, she said she was terrified. She was scared, not because of the challenges of motherhood but rather because of the way in which she says America treats young black men. 

“I was pregnant and crying because I see a lot of black young men getting shot for no reason,” Collins said. 

Collins is a 22-year-old mom, pre-nursing student and president of Youth Opposed To Violence Everywhere, an organization made up of young men and women that seek to address the issue of violence in Chicago. Collins said that her work to push for social change to protect young people was largely inspired by the birth of her son. 

“Before I had a son, what inspired me was getting very involved, I felt like I made a difference in society, that my voice matters,” she said, “Not just my voice, the other youths matter.” 

She founded Youth Opposed to Violence Everywhere in 2014, with the mission of raising awareness within Chicago communities and working to better those communities, according to Collins. 

“People will be so aware but they don’t do nothing about it because they don’t have that push,” she added. 

The organization also seeks to provide resources and jobs for Youth, particularly within the North Lawndale community, which is the West Side neighborhood where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once lived with his family in 1966 to bring attention to the plight of Chicago’s poor. North Lawndale was the subject of a Chicago Tribune series dubbed, “The American Millstone” and continues to be among the nation’s poorest communities, high poverty and crime, though there remain notable grassroots efforts to stem the tide. 

“We provide jobs for them so they can stay off the streets, and actually be invested in something,” Collins said. 

Youth Opposed to Violence Everywhere has worked on various initiatives, including a recent COVID-19 testing event and food drive for the elderly. 

“We were passing out food for the elders, it went as planned and I really enjoyed it,” said Alicia Ware, a 17-year-old from the West Side and the organization's vice-president. 

In addition to organizing events surrounding a variety of initiatives, Collins said her organization has engaged in door-to-door outreach. 

“When we actually go to their houses, and their doors—we talk and invest our time into these individuals. They actually want to go out with us,” she said. 

One initiative that has remained important for the organization is the crisis of missing and murdered Chicago women. In 2018, the organization helped work on the “We Walk For Her” march designed to gather attention for missing and murdered women. 

“It was organized by the youths—7th graders, eight graders as well, and teens, ” Collins said, adding that among the goals of the march was to bring the community together to gather attention and ideas for solutions.  

“It was inspiring and it was hard because my cousin's birthday, the one  that was murdered, was the same day as the event,” said Kejuana Hopkins, the director of campaigns for Youth Opposed To Violence Everywhere. 

Hopkins, 16, is the cousin of Shantieya Smith, a 26-year-old woman who was murdered in 2018. Hopkins said that she originally started working with Youth Opposed To Violence Everywhere when her mom got involved in advocacy after her cousin's death. She said that working with the organization has helped her in her process of grief. 

Youth Opposed to Violence Everywhere is currently working on more projects to address the issue of missing and murdered women. 

“We're trying to do more than just a march--were trying to actually get justice,” Hopkins said. 

Said Collins, “We were having Zoom meetings with other organizations to come down with solutions to help the families of these missing women and girls.”

“I also suggested that we go to (Mayor) Lori Lightfoot’s house,” Collins added, “It could be a peaceful protest, but make her become more aware of how we feel about this situation.”

The lack of attention by the media and public officials to violence and homicide cases is obvious, said Ware, who first got involved with Youth Opposed to Violence Everywhere in the summer of 2020.

“I feel like they pay more attention to other stuff than this, and this is as important as the other stuff going on,” Ware added. 

“These families are hurting. …So it’s important that we draw attention for that reason,” said Collins, explaining  that she first got involved after noticing Hopkins promoting the organization on social media. Collins said that the key to solving and helping to prevent the cases of missing and murdered women lies in making changes must within law enforcement, adding that her husband is currently in school at the City College of Chicago with hopes of becoming a police officer. 

“I honestly believe there shouldn’t be no way you should be able to have just an associate’s degree to become a police officer,” Collins said.  “I feel like it should be more in depth.” 

She also advocates for more teens, like Ware and Hopkins, to get involved in helping to bring attention to and also learning about the issue.   

Despite her busy life with juggling studies and raising her son, Collins has continued to stay involved in the organization's efforts regarding missing and murdered women. 

“This is a very serious situation, they talk about it on the news, but don’t nobody do anything about it,” said Collins, “They just talk about it one day, then it lasts for about a week or two and then it disappears, like nothing happened, like that’s not a person.” 

She’s working to change that.