Lafayette taking Violence Prevention Initiative to middle schoolers
Author: Tammy L. Lane • First Posted: Wednesday, December 07, 2016
A diverse collection of students from Lafayette High School is determined to reverse the local wave of gun violence that recently claimed one of their own, so a baker’s dozen from the Lafayette Violence Prevention Initiative (VPI) met at the Charles Young Community Center on Third Street to plan their next move.
“Nothing will happen unless you act. There’s no reason someone should get shot, and we’re going to do everything we can,” said senior Maya Homer. “We all need to come together as one because we can do more (united),” added sophomore Dara Hisle.
VPI emerged after the October death of 15-year-old Trinity Gay, a Lafayette freshman who was struck by a stray bullet in a restaurant parking lot. “We all wanted to get together and start a movement so younger kids can have a better life,” said senior Chris Wharton, who welcomed Mayor Jim Gray and Commissioner of Social Services Chris Ford to their half-day retreat.
The group intends to reach out to middle schoolers and show them how to set a good example and use their voice to stand up for what’s right; they will also highlight the irrevocable consequences of a moment of anger or carelessness. VPI members are developing three 10-minute segments and skits to present at schoolwide assemblies and other venues, where they will ask fellow youths to pledge to stop the violence.
The retreat gave the Lafayette students a chance to brainstorm ideas and different scenarios and to synthesize their core message. Among the challenges are capturing middle schoolers’ attention and effectively sharing poignant information about violence, guns, and related issues. “What will open their eyes and get them to listen?” Maya asked.
Maya also suggested the Lexington community lacks adequate support systems for youths who are broken or who feel powerless and frustrated. “Some people fight. Some people scream. Some people use guns. They’re not thinking about the end of the story,” she said after the mayor asked if the current criminal penalties fail as a deterrent.
Gray promised to take the students’ concerns to county council that same afternoon. “I can learn from your point of view and perspective, and that’s what we want to do when challenges like this affect you directly,” the mayor said. Ford also thanked the students for their candor. “It’s invaluable for us to be able to listen. Our hearts are right there with you,” he said. “You guys are saying to the community ‘We’re not going to live in a state of paralysis or fear.”
VPI’s leadoff presentation is set for 7 p.m. Jan. 25 at the William Wells Brown Community Center, where all will be welcome. “It’s an easy, good fit for the first workshop – to build their confidence and get ready,” said center director Jill Chenault Wilson, who helped facilitate the Dec. 6 retreat.
Laura Hatfield, executive director of Partners for Youth, encouraged the students to stay focused on their mission and to be well-prepared, and she assured them that the onstage delivery will get easier each time. She also noted how VPI can create a ripple effect among their peers and incoming freshmen to sustain the movement.
Lafayette Principal Bryne Jacobs praised VPI for advocating a culture that does not tolerate violence and for fostering relationships with middle schoolers. “I’m really proud of what they want to do,” he said. “They’re not future civic leaders – they are civic leaders creating positive change among the impressionable youth of our community.”
Editor's note: The VPI students subsequently changed the name of their group to WAVES, which stands for We Against Violence Encourage Strength.