Kalamazoo’s Urban Alliance hopes to break the cycle of gun violence by reaching out to young people

With weekly reports of gun violence across the nation, in Michigan, and here in Kalamazoo, young people need to hear first-hand what they are facing, why they should not be involved, and how it is affecting the lives of the more and more people, a local human services organization says.
 
So the Urban Alliance Inc. of Kalamazoo, which has worked since 1999 to help break generational cycles of poverty, is shifting the focus of its outreach efforts from adults to young people – in order to address the issue of gun violence and affect change.
 
Throughout the United States, more than 70 people were injured and more than a dozen were killed in 13 mass shootings just this past weekend, according to CNN. Here in Kalamazoo, a 16-year-old allegedly shot his father after arguing over a puppy at their home on April 10. On May 26, a 15-year-old boy was shot by another teen at a Stadium Drive McDonald’s restaurant and hospitalized. And on June 1, about 40 minutes west of here in Hartford, a 12-year-old fired a shot as he robbed a gas station.
 
“This narrative change starts by educating our youth,” says Chris Pompey, executive director of the Urban Alliance.
 
To do so, the nonprofit organization has planned a three-part series of summer day camps centered on breaking the cycle of gun violence. They are intended for young people ages 11 to 16.
 
“While Urban Alliance traditionally works with adults, these events are a great example of how serving youth helps us serve the whole family and potentially the community,” says Pompey.
Each day-long Life Camp event is to be held once a month in June, July, and August, with each session centered on the theme of “Hands are Meant to Heal, Not Kill.” They are scheduled from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on:
 
• Tuesday, June 14, at Trenches Community Church, 1003 Gayle Ave.
 
• Monday, July 11, at Tree of Life School, 2001 Cameron St.
 
• Tuesday, Aug. 16, at the Douglass Community Association, 1000 W. Patterson St.
 
Participants will take part in activities and discussions designed to help them avoid gun violence cycles and differentiate between acceptable and unacceptable gun uses, according to information provided by the organization. They will hear first-hand accounts from victims of gun violence as well as the experiences of individuals who have been perpetrators of gun violence. And they will take part in a youth-led community march and drumline.
 
“Our goal is to educate, empower, and equip Life Camp attendees with the tools and resources needed to step outside the cycles of gun violence within Kalamazoo,” says Urban Alliance Outreach Manager James Harris. “In addition to helping local youth avoid gun violence, we also want to help them become advocates against gun violence.”
 
He says Life Camp participants will be encouraged to write letters of compassion “to potential or perpetual shooters encouraging them not to pull the trigger.”
 
Financial donors that are helping Urban Alliance host the free camp include Trenches Community Church and Eastside Youth Strong. The camp sessions will include breakfast, lunch, and all needed materials and equipment. The sessions will also award up to $150 to attendees who excel in leadership during activities, which are to include water gun fights, paintball target practice, and laser tag.
 
For the June 14 camp, parents and guardians are asked to register their children online by Monday, June 13, here or in person at the Urban Alliance office, 1009 E. Stockbridge Ave., or at Trenches Community Church, 1003 Gayle Ave.
 
More information about the Urban Alliance, its services, and its programs is available here or by calling 269-348-0978.
 
The organization invites guardians to attend the camp with their children but they are not required to do so. And it is inviting community members to participate in the community march and drumline portion of the June 14 event, which will begin and end at Trenches Community Church, That is scheduled for noon to 1:30 p.m.
 
Pompey says he expects the camp to help “jump-start” the creation of a different narrative about the use of guns.
 
“Guns can be used to hunt or for recreation at the shooting range safely and legally,” he says. “Locally and nationally, we need to understand what safe, legal, and acceptable gun use looks like to ensure that no one is hurt or ends up in serious trouble.”