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Mother of Violence

At-risk teens take pen to paper for Week Without Violence.

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor

THE STUDENTS sit quietly in a classroom in East Side Union's tiny Apollo Alternative High School, writing out their thoughts on notebook paper, trying to put into words how the violence in their world has affected them. The assignment is part of their work with the Santa Clara Valley YWCA's New Options after-school program, timed to coincide with the nationwide Week Without Violence campaign, but the students seem to consider it more than merely an essay. In many cases, it is their lives. The resulting papers are a troubling accounting of the difficult pathways many of the valley's young people have to travel every day. Their names have been left out to protect their anonymity.

"Violence has affected me in a way. I lost two cousins shot. One got stabbed and, well, my brother and his friends are always fighting. My Dad died shot. So I think it has affected me because I lost a lot of family members." --W.

"I was around violence. It was nothing to me, but something happened. My homeboy who was a Norteño got shot up by another Norteño. Ever since that my life has changed. I avoid violence now. I don't go looking for it, but if it comes looking for me, then I'm theirs. But I try not to. I grew up with violence and still think it resolves your problems sometimes. When I hear about it I get mad, it hurts just to hear or to see how can we be so cruel to each other. But then I do it but I have a year I regret so I'm kind of doing a different thing. I'm studying about serial killers and it has affected me in my point of view." --K.

"Violence has affected me in the way that to see gang members fight one another. Also abuse from the cops that they do to the immigrants that come from Mexico. To see many kids out in the streets without many parents not even taking care of them. Also babysitters abusing (beating up) the babies. Also what happened at Columbine High School. See how the students killed some of the other students." --P.

"Violence is like a criminal that is taking over our community. People have dirty minds to believe that violence is the right path to life. These people's usual involvement to gangs and drugs make them think that their family is not important and nothing matters. These problems shouldn't continue to happen in our community but shouldn't happen anyplace else. These things affect me because now I don't feel safe not even when I walk down the street." --A.

"Violence has affected me greatly. I have fought people who didn't like me and won. But once I beat them they bring their family or their friends. I have fought through many people. I have almost been shot but the gun jammed on them. I was lucky but sometimes your luck runs out. But I just live my life day by day, sometime always watching my back." --J.

"Instead of having fun chilling under the sun, I see ... A group of hoodlums walk around acting bad flashing their gunz. I see them pass me by and I'm like ... nah, I'm not buying it. I'd have to see myself try it because I'd juss be caught up in the violence. So instead of using all that nonsense. I speak up and raise my voice, I don't use gunz, the mic is my weapon of choice!" --L.

"Violence affects us because it evolves around everyone. Violence is serious because it can result in death. It can happen to anyone, you could be in the wrong place at the wrong time. You could look at someone the wrong way and don't realize it, but they could think that you're mugging them and that can cause violence." --B.

New Options is a pregnancy prevention program that emphasizes self-esteem and life skills building rather than lecturing to encourage its enrollees to stay out of trouble. Getting the participants to write down the things that are troubling them is an important component, but a lot of it is just plain teenage good-timing.

"We get the students involved in a lot of activities they wouldn't otherwise be exposed to," says program director Michelle Sharon. "We hold barbecues. We've attended cardio-kickboxing classes. We've taken field trips up to the snow, which a lot of the students had never seen before. The kids look at it like an extended family."

The program operates at Overfelt and Apollo high schools, with plans to expand next year to Mt. Pleasant High. At Apollo, New Options is offered as an elective with class credit given. Program components include academics, career awareness, family life and sex education, and youth development in such areas as arts and sports. Staffing is provided by YWCA and volunteer professional counselors from the communities, who run the programs on the school sites after school hours, with funding provided by a Community Challenge Match grant from the California Department of Health Services. Sharon says the program has served 400 county students since its inception in 1997, with 100 currently enrolled in the program.

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From the October 21-27, 1999 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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