Youth impacted by gun violence speak during Triennium webinar

 

Presbyterian Peacemaking Program’s ‘Standing Our Holy Ground’ premieres at Presbyterian youth event

by Rich Copley | Presbyterian News Service

Capt. Keene Red Elk, Kaaleah J., LaNiyah M. and Teyonna L. spoke during the Triennium webinar “Standing Our Holy Ground” presented by the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program at Purdue University on July 19. (Photo by Rich Copley)

WEST LAFAYETTE, Indiana — As Kaaleah J. from the Presbytery of Eastern Virginia spoke, photos of her father appeared on a screen above the stage in Purdue University’s Eliza Fowler Hall and he could be heard rapping, “When I’m gone, will they remember me?”

Kaaleah was keeping her father’s memory alive as well as the violent way he died when a casual meeting with a friend turned to gun fire.

Kaleeah J. from Presbytery of Eastern Virginia spoke during the webinar “Standing Our Holy Ground” presented by the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program at Triennium on the Purdue University campus July 19. (Photo by Rich Copley)

She was only a toddler at the time, but on Friday afternoon, the high school student was telling the story of his tragic death in a shooting and her efforts to combat gun violence as a panelist for “Standing Our Holy Ground: A Year-Long Look at Gun Violence & What the Faith Community Can Do About It.” The webinar, put on by the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program,  presented its second edition Friday afternoon at the Presbyterian Youth Triennium.

Being at the triennial PC(USA) youth event, this installment of the webinar series focused on the impacts of gun violence on young people and featured the voices of three young women active in gun violence prevention efforts and a Purdue University police official.

To start the discussion, Peacemaking coordinator Carl Horton laid out 10 “common understandings” including that “The gun violence prevention movement is not anti-gun,” “Gun violence is a public health epidemic …” and “The Second Amendment does not preclude reasonable, sensible gun-violence prevention legislation.”

The discussion veered away from hot-button issues of the legislative gun control debate, with two participants starting the conversation focusing on the causes of gun violence in their home on the South Side of Chicago.

Teyonna L. from Chicago spoke during the Triennium webinar “Standing Our Holy Ground” presented by the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program at Purdue University on July 19. (Photo by Rich Copley)

Teyonna L. and LaNiyah M. came to the panel through BRAVE (Bold Resistance Against Violence Everywhere), a South Side-based program that develops peacemaking skills in people ages 14 to 21. The program is based at Saint Sabina Church which is led by well-known priest and activist the Rev. Dr.  Michael Pfleger.

During the webinar, Teyonna described an eye-opening trip she took through Chicago with the group, from her own neighborhood in which most residents are black and live with a high level of poverty and violence, to wealthier neighborhoods where most residents are white and wealthier, and violence and safety aren’t as big an issue.

“I’m still in Chicago, but it’s totally different,” Teyonna said. “There has to be something behind that. … We have a lack of resources and a lack of safety.”

When people have a lack of resources and job opportunities, she said, it’s easy to “turn to people who don’t have your best interests at heart.”

LaNiyah M. from Chicago spoke during the webinar “Standing Our Holy Ground” presented by the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program at Purdue University on July 19. (Photo by Rich Copley)

LaNiyah described life on the South Side as, “You’ve got to watch your surroundings, watch your back. You’ve got to be alert at all times.”

But still, last year she was shot.

“I never thought it would be me,” she said. Back then, she said, “I’m not thinking about gun violence. Being shot opened my eyes. This has got to stop.”

Kaaleah echoed the Chicago students’ assertion that the problem is “too many guns, not enough resources.” She has done work with the Virginia Action Network and the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence.

Capt. Keene Red Elk of the Purdue University Police said that there were things that could help such as closing loopholes that allow private and gun-show sales without background checks. He also dispelled the notion that a “good guy with a gun” can be the solution when violent situations occur, pointing to studies that show even trained police officers have a less than 50% rate of accuracy in situations where they use their guns. Many problems can emerge, he said, when people with less training draw their weapons.

Capt. Keene Red Elk of the Purdue University Police Dept. spoke during the Triennium webinar “Standing Our Holy Ground” presented by the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program at Purdue University on July 19. (Photo by Rich Copley)

Kaaleah said faith groups can be a key to helping curb gun violence because churches have broad followings and influences.

The Presbyterian Peacemaking Program launched “Standing Our Holy Ground” to become a resource for an issue Horton says has been recurring and shows no signs of going away. Episodes will be archived on the Peacemaking website. The next episode will be at the Big Tent conference in Baltimore Aug. 1-3. There will be a screening of the documentary “Trigger: The Ripple Effect of Gun Violence” at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 2, followed by a “Standing Our Holy Ground” discussion of gun violence in urban settings at 8:30 p.m. Click here to register.

Support the Presbyterian Youth Triennium by giving to the Pentecost Offering through Presbyterian Special Offerings

Capt. Keene Red Elk and LaNiyah M. of Chicago speak after being panelists on the Triennium webinar “Standing Our Holy Ground” presented by the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program at Purdue University on July 19. (Photo by Rich Copley

For the panelists at Triennium, it was important to have the forum of people in the room and online to hear and be informed by their stories.

“It means something that people try,” Teyonna L. said. “Even if we can’t get everything we want, it’s helpful to know that people care and are trying to make a difference.”

Read more:

Gun-violence webinar will debut live at Presbyterian Youth Triennium


Watch our video

In this first installment of “Standing Our Holy Ground: A Year-Long Look at Gun Violence and What the Faith Community Can Do About It” the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program’s webinar series visited the campus of Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana to talk to three students impacted by gun violence and one campus officer.

 


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