LEXINGTON, Ky. (Sept. 6, 2013) – By his own admission, Hasan Davis was once a delinquent teenager, running the streets of Atlanta.
On Thursday, he stood before a group of people concerned about teen violence as commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Juvenile Justice.
Davis related the story of his dramatic turn-around, challenging those he addressed to show troubled teens they have value.
“We have so many children with so much natural talent who have made mistakes,” he said. “Show them a different vision of themselves.”
Davis was keynote speaker at “It Takes a Village to Prevent Youth Violence,” a conference for youth advocates, criminal justice professionals and community leaders.
The conference was an outgrowth of the work of the Commission on Youth Development and Public Safety appointed in the wake of almost more than a dozen youth shootings in Fayette County in 2011.
About 250 professionals who work with young people in the schools and in community programs and agencies attended the conference, which was held at Northeast Christian Church at Hamburg.
While Davis’ story was dramatic, it was an earlier presentation that seemed to make the biggest impact on participants. A panel of seven teenagers and young people talked about some of the pressures and influences on teens in today’s world and why they turn to guns or other weapons.
The panel was asked why some young people get on a path that leads to violence – against others and against themselves.
“Kids go home and see their parents being violent toward each other and they mimic those behaviors,” one of the young people said.
“You learn from watching things,” another said. “You see a lot of guns and violence on television.”
“You see celebrities and gangsters and rappers and you idolize them,” said another, “when you should be looking the other way. Movies and music play a big part in a teen’s life.”
The need or want of money also plays a role, the teens added. “When things happen at home, you maybe feel like getting a gun is something you have to do to get money. We need to find something for our teens to do to earn money.”
But money is only good “if you spend it the right way,” another teen added.
“I enjoyed the teens’ comments thoroughly,” said Cheryl Jones, who helps run an after-school program at the Black and Williams Center. “I wish we could have spent a half-day listening to them. They’re teaching us.”
After the panel discussion, the group attended break-out sessions on firearms and youth, dating violence and stalking, trauma and its effect on the brain and active-shooter threat and its pre-indicators.
Lexington Mayor Jim Gray, who appointed the Commission on Youth Development and Public Safety in May 2011, urged participants to think of themselves as first responders.
“You are the front-line in trying to save these children from violence,” he said.
First District Councilmen Chris Ford said youth violence was not a new issue.
“Don’t hesitate at all and continue to put pressure on the community and civic leaders to help,” he said.
Sponsors for the day-long conference were the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government, the Fayette County Public Schools, The Ridge, KentuckyOne Health and NOBLE (The National Organization of Black Law Enforcement.)