The Youth Substance Abuse & Violence Prevention Symposium entitled “Losing our Youth” The Hidden Crisis” will focus on the growing crisis of youth gang violence, relationship violence and substance abuse. Representatives from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department – Criminal Intelligence Unit; Fighting Back; Carolina Medical Center-Trauma Unit; UNCC Sociology Department; and Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools will lead discussions, make presentations and help us find reasonable approaches and solutions to this growing crisis. Come join us as we begin the process of developing a proactive community strategy to fight youth violence and substance abuse.
Our community is plagued with a largely unnoticed but growing problem of youth gangs and gang violence. Do not make the mistake of visualizing the 1950’s West Side Story version of this phenomenon. Contemporary gangs more nearly resemble the hard core criminal organizations depicted in the movie Colors. They are likely to have access to heavy caliber handguns, use and /or sell drugs and promote prostitution. These gangs are no longer isolated neighborhood or school based organizations, many of these local gangs have affiliation with larger national gangs such as the Crips, Bloods and Latin Kings. Gang activity is no longer an exclusively young male activity. All female and female auxiliaries of male gangs are becoming more popular and just as brutal. Shattering the myth that youth gangs are no longer exclusively located in the inter city. They are being found in every segment of the population and within every demographic.
The divorce and domestic violence rates in the United States are clear indication that our society has a problem with interpersonal relationships. Much of this negative behavior is learned within the context of a dysfunctional family and from their peers. Many young people are never given positive examples of how to resolve conflict without resorting to violent behavior early on. Young men are especially prone to falling victim to exaggerated masculinity as characterization by a show of virility, through the domination of their female companions and other males. Young women are prone to mistake male domination for attention and affection.
There is a connection between the rates of substance abuse among young people and their exposure to violence and violent images. Like adults they seek a means of escaping from the tensions and stresses of their everyday lives. Living in the moment they generally do not make the connection between present behavior and future consequences. This is a connection that we as adults need to reinforce in order to change behavior. We need to provide our youth with safe avenues, useful options and alternative escapes from life’s pressures and adolescent growing pains.
The safety and success of our future is in the hands of our youth. We have to begin to address violence, risk-taking behavior, youth gangs, substance abuse, low self-esteem etc. in the high chair not the jail cell. Our youth are surrounded by negative influences that are leading them down the path of destruction. We are here to break this cycle. Changing negative behavior is more than addressing the behavior itself. It is about understanding the cause of this behavior, addressing it at its root and then giving useful, practical alternatives and examples of their success. It is about helping young people understand and accept they’re self worth, improving their options, supporting their efforts and encouraging them to pursue their dreams. We will help our youth make good decisions today, so that they will be around tomorrow to enjoy their bright futures.