February 27th— Around 35 people gathered for a community forum at the African American Museum in Cedar Rapids to talk about how to prevent youth violence. They highlighted the community’s need for things like more access to mental health care, jobs, resources for prevention and more engagement by and with affected communities, among others.
Community member Anthony Clark said that Cedar Rapids, due to its size, has the opportunity to curb violence before it escalates to a point where “we just throw up our hands.”
“Violence, like a lot of things in our life, is derived from our environment. It’s easy to choose violence when you don’t know nothing else but violence. And violence doesn’t always have to be physical,” he said. “Violence has always been the voice of those who felt left out, disenfranchised, under-schooled, under-educated.”
Having a conversation about violence prevention with the community was the focus of the event which featured a 5-member panel and was co-sponsored by a community group called 1Strong, the African American Family Preservation and Resource Committee, and the University of Iowa Injury Prevention Research Center (IPRC).
See the list of panelists from the forum.
Panel member Tiffany Conroy, the new Violence Prevention Coordinator with the Iowa Department of Public Health, said there is greater impact when professionals with professional expertise engage with the community and work with those with the “lived experience.”
“If we’re not engaging in these conversations, and if we’re not engaging with communities and trying to get at those societal-level issues and mechanisms behind violence, then all we’re continuing to do is play catch up, because we’re not getting at the root causes,” she said.
Community member Martha Carter said she believes Cedar Rapids has money and can use funding for prevention programs that work with youth.
“We need creative outlets. We need art and film—you know different things like that that really tap into the talent of the youth,” she said. “People have to be reminded of their own goodness and their own talent.”
Panel member Alphonce O’Bannon, Executive Director of Leaders, Believers and Achievers Foundation (LBA) in Cedar Rapids, said youth need to stay away from things that take away from why they are valuable in this world.
“So instead of telling kids what to do, we set up that structure so they can see how valued they are. See how much of a purpose they have. And see how great they can be,” he said.
Community member Terry Aron said he comes from “a place of knowing,” as an ex-gang member who didn’t care about anyone but himself. He said he knows what these kids are going through.
“If nothing else comes from tonight, I get more input from what I see every time I come out that I can use to better where I’m coming from to help the kids, “ Aron said. “We all got a part in getting this right.”
Learn more about the free screening of the film Newtown in Iowa City on March 3rd.