Gun Violence: Teens Demand a Plan

Jan 9, 2013, 2:53 PM

Shortly after the shooting of 20 children and six adults in Newtown, Ct., a large group of Hollywood stars released a video asking viewers to “demand a plan” on action to be taken to prevent future mass shootings.  Since then several videos have popped up on YouTube that show almost all of the actors in the video wielding weapons in films and television shows.

Another video also demands a plan on gun violence, with a compelling set of spokespeople. This one stars and was developed with minority teens in California and produced by the California Endowment, a private health foundation. At last check, the teens’ video had gotten close to 750,000 hits on YouTube.

NewPublicHealth spoke with Barbara Raymond, director of youth opportunity at the California Endowment about how the video came to be and what the next steps are for taking action on gun violence.

NewPublicHealth: How did this video come to be?

Barbara Raymond: The Endowment looks at health very broadly, including things that happen in our schools and happen in our neighborhoods. We started work a couple of years ago in 14 communities across California, and through the process we’ve worked with  over 20,000 residents and they came back so strongly saying safety and my own health prevention are our number one issues. And they drilled down further to issues including school safety and school climate and the epidemic of suspensions and extreme school discipline policies.  

We have been able to engage a whole set of young people and they have really identified these issues as well. It’s especially the young people saying that working on these issues is urgent, including violence in the community and on the streets of our neighborhoods, fixing issues in our schools and what the kids call the school-to-prison pipeline. These issues have just come up so strongly so when the Newtown tragedy happened, young people wanted to say something and react to that.  

As staff, we talked about how the tragedy would open up a whole public conversation around mental health and school safety practices and staff members suggested we reach out to the kids with the video idea.  

NPH: How were the kids involved in the development of the video?

Barbara Raymond: They were definitely participating in the script development. I have heard them say all of those things and more—such as how many truancy tickets have been issued by the police. They are just really activated around being able to make the neighborhoods and schools safer and healthier. They pipe up with these solutions in pretty much every setting they’re in—these kids testify before the state legislature, some have been to DC; they regularly talk to their city councils. So they are pretty articulate about what is really needed.

NPH: Can you tell me about some of these kids?

Barbara Raymond: There are kids that are in our Boyle Heights neighborhood. We have 14 communities in an effort called Building Healthy Communities where we work and these young people were all connected to one of these communities and all have been involved in some kind of effort such as initial work in improving their school and neighborhoods, all the way up to being youth organizers themselves and motivating other kids to speak up and do things such as speaking with city council members. Boyle Heights is quite low-income, very diverse. Unfortunately the neighborhood does experience violence and most of the kids, just as they say, hear gun shots, and they have friends and relatives who were killed and have suffered gun violence. So it is not remotely contrived. These kids are genuine and authentic, unfortunately. All kids should be lucky and get to be kids but these young kids have experienced things that are traumatic.

NPH: Beyond YouTube, how is the video being shared?

Barbara Raymond: We will be promoting the video at schools, city councils, legislatures and to other groups and organizations. There is a police chief in Salinas [California] that mentioned he wanted to show the video at all of his patrol officer briefings.  We are looking for all the ways as an organization to give youth a voice and have them speak directly to policymakers; speak to other influencers because they tell the story best. They tell the needs and issues the best because it is real.

>>Bonus Link: Students from Long Beach, Calif., speak out on school discipline practices that make it difficult to graduate from high school. Long Beach has one of the worst graduation rates in the state.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.