Jersey City Police Car
Jersey City Police Car

New Jersey City University’s seventh annual Save The Youth event earlier this month gave community members a wide-ranging look at the systems that can keep Jersey City’s young people in cycles of violence and at efforts being made to break those cycles.

The virtual event, held on April 12, was held in the wake of the fatal February shooting of 15–year-old Devin Bryant. Recently, a 17-year-old was arrested in connection with Bryant’s death     .

“Gun violence is a public health crisis,” said Heide Grant, a NJCU student who brought up the shooting and state legislation to expand background checks for gun buyers in her presentation at the event. “We need leaders with the courage to strive for us to stand up for the 200-plus Americans shot and injured every day,” she said.

Heide and other students at NJCU specializing in public health education gave short interactive talks about the mental and medical health facilities, the criminal justice system, and the social services agencies that many young people surrounded by violence interact with. The final group of the day discussed advocacy and policy efforts to improve outcomes for youth.

NJCU student Samantha Herrera shared research by Kaiser Permanente and the CDC showing that adverse childhood experiences (known as ACEs) such as abuse, neglect, and witnessing or being subject to physical violence, can lead to negative health outcomes harm one’s health.

“Juvenile offenders are four times more likely to report experiencing four or more ACEs than most college educated students,” Herrera said.

“Studies show that there’s a direct link between childhood bullying and future incarceration, and that’s due to a person dealing with unresolved anger issues or mental health issues,” confirmed NJCU student Arlene Albert during her presentation. “They’re going to deal with more abuse being behind bars…so school programs and resources that deal with the negative impacts of bullying make a big difference.”

Steven Campos, the community resource director for Hudson Partnership CMO, emceed Save the Youth and spoke of his passion for helping the children who come to the organization with a variety of emotional challenges.

“We work with a really focused population of children that have experienced traumatic experiences in their lives that have put them at higher risk due to gun violence,” said Campos. “Throughout the years, you see these trends and you become very loud and vocal about changing systemic policies and programs so that we can have better outcomes for these kids.”

Another nonprofit speaker was Pamela Johnson, executive director of the Jersey City Anti-Violence Coalition Movement. She explained:

“People think that in order to be a victim, someone has to do something to you. But we would argue that people living in highly concentrated violent neighborhoods are all victims of violence.”

According to Johnson, the movement just received a state grant for a career program matching at-risk teens with local unions to teach carpentry, electrical, plumbing, and HVAC services. “We can place them in not only jobs, but careers that will allow them to make anywhere from $60,000 to $100,000 a year and take them to a very different place in their lives because now they’re able to provide for their families,” she said.

Hospital staff and elected officials also offered perspectives on their day-to-day efforts to respond to and prevent youth violence.

LaShawn Overton, a trauma patient “navigator” with Jersey City Medical Center’s Project Hudson, spoke of “going to bedside for gunshot victims, stabbed victims, physical assault victims, Sometimes domestic violence victim and helping them today to get back to 100 percent recovery.”

Ward F Councilman Frank Gilmore, who attended, said:

“One thing I want the audience to really understand is the mental health component in the Black and brown community because for various reasons, mental health has a negative undertone,” Gilmore said in an interview during a student presentation. “It’s something that we don’t like to talk about in our community. It’s something that when we do talk about is stigmatized. I just want the audience to know because odds are they will be serving this demographic in some form of social service.”

According to Campos, Gilmore and state assemblywoman Angela McKnight, who also attended, have helped organize Save the Youth since the event’s inception seven years ago.

More local resources for youth dealing with violence and their families include:

Trauma Recovery Center at Robert Wood Johnson Jersey City Medical Center

Provides free services available in-person or remotely to those who have experienced of a range of traumas including sexual assault, domestic violence, gun violence, and other forms of community violence. The center also serves family members of homicide victims.

Contact: 201-839-2644; Deborah.Almonte@rwjbh.org

Guazabara Insights, LLC

Provides mentoring and educational services on community reintegration, social consciousness, and more.

Contact: CEO Dennis Febo, 917-727-3326

Angela Cares Inc.

Provides projects and programs designed to assist clients facing emergency situations, service activities, through our case management, workshops, volunteer activities, agency referrals, and client follow-up.

Contact: CEO Angela Mcknight, 201-685-7273

Family Partners of Hudson County

Provides parent support services, support groups, advocacy, and groups for youth with behavioral and mental health needs.

Contact: 201-915-5140

Andrea Crowley-Hughes

Andrea Crowley-Hughes is a writer and media maker motivated by chronicling and sustaining communities. Her reporting on education, sustainability and the restaurant industry has recently been featured...