Learning that violence can be un-learned

Some of the youth in the Summer 612 program across the city gathered for a group photo at the Central Library Sept. 22 before presenting their projects in the auditorium. (Photo by Margo Ashmore)

Fong Vang, his brothers, and some friends hanging out on winter break chased off some people who broke into their house while they were sleeping. The incident escalated to 40 people surrounding the house before the police came 30 minutes later, shrugging “oh they’re gone,” and making no effort to give chase.

He said the police looked at him with a stare that “seemed racial.” He said it was African Americans who broke in.

Vang, age 17 attending Patrick Henry High School, and several other students worked on one of eight projects citywide this summer to “recognize that violence is learned and can be unlearned by reducing the impact of violent messages in our media, culture, and entertainment.” It’s the fourth, and as Council Member Don Samuels put it, “probably the trickiest” of four goals in the City of Minneapolis’ Blueprint for Action against youth violence.

The other three goals: Every child should have a trusted adult outside of the family, a mentor; intervene at the first sign of trouble (such as truancy or going to the hospital with an inflicted injury); restore as quickly as possible if a youth does get involved with violence.

Vang’s group, formed through the Lao Assistance Center of Minnesota, worked with Asian Media Access, 2418 Plymouth Ave. N. to make a video, “All in the Mix,” from street interviews and video booth ideas on how they see violence in their lives and how to stop the violence in North Minneapolis. Their video, and seven other projects, were showcased Sept. 22 at an event at the Hennepin County Minneapolis Central Library.

“Stereotypes the people have” were the most surprising, Bonnsy Vue, Phillip Latu and Kong Her said, simultaneously, in an interview. “People keep stereotypes even though they know their neighbors.” Vue said. “We want to show the neighborhood and everyone they shouldn’t focus on stereotypes but on preventing violence.”

Vue said, “Media can influence youth and adults. These stereotypes are already in their heads.” He said he hopes “the neighborhood will see there’s a little bit of change in North Minneapolis.”
Latu said, “We found it’s a close knit community, all believe the same thing. It’s a big burden to carry, just go with it, it makes it easier (to accept the stereotyping, rather than fighting it) but they’re angered by it.”

Their video, played at a closing celebration for the Summer 612 program, asked people to talk about what they like most, and least, about North Minneapolis. The positives included lots of parks, families and a close-knit community feeling, the negatives were stereotypes that others have about the area, actual violence, cliques/gangs and trashy, littered streets.

The group concluded that the key to preventing violence is activities, and positive public community events, especially on weekends when kids could otherwise be hanging out at Mall of America, “they can enjoy doing things in the neighborhood.” Community activities help people get to know each other, they said.

Vang got involved with video about two and a half years ago through his older brother and sister, Pheng Vang and Bao Vang. He’s worked with a program at Asian Media Access where youth make messages for youth about the dangers of HIV, drugs, and tobacco.

In making the “All in the Mix” video this summer, he said he found people’s stories surprising and fascinating, especially in that they paralleled a lot of his own thoughts.

Vang said the culture of tolerating violence goes back many centuries. “Others have their own ideas on how to approach problems. In school we learn about wars, standing up for yourself and fighting. They tolerate it back,” and engage in fighting, even if it’s not at first in their nature, “and it’s getting worser and worser.”

Samuels, keynoting at the event, riffed on baby boomers having “had a lot more empowerment than today’s youth. Young people were doing great things. We made the new America.” But yesterday’s youth, current baby boomers should now step out of the way and “put up with the imperfections” of today’s youth and let them find their voice, he said. To the young people, he said, “You will never be young again. Right now, you are cool, you can lead other youth. In 10 years you won’t be cool, so use that agility and relevancy…This is the generation, ages 15-24, that is most affected by violence.

Who better to speak passionately?”

The eight projects in Summer 612: Unlearning the Culture of Violence were funded by a grant from the Minneapolis Foundation and chosen by the Minneapolis Youth Congress.

Four projects involved documentary films (confederation of Somali Community in Minnesota, TVbyGIRLS, and Youth Education Justice Initiative, as well as Lao Assistance Center). One project, Pillsbury United Communities: Waite House, was a mural to teach community building skills and building a network. The YMCA’s Y-ReConnect Program did “Remix Your Kicks,” youth transitioning back home from residential correctional placement painted pairs of tennis shoes representing how they see peace. Them Elements Dance Crew created a performance incorporating dance, spoken word, theater and video. A youth sports program, Above the E.D.G.E. Global Basketball League developed positive character and sportsmanship through the fun of playing basketball.

For more information, visit www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/dhfs/summer612.asp or call Alyssa Banks at 612-673-2729.

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Margo Ashmore's picture
Margo Ashmore

Margo Ashmore is the editor of NorthNews.