We all remember how important self-perception was when we were young. As we worked to shape our identity and learn from new experiences, our self-esteem could rise and fall faster than a 13-year old’s voice. Most of us wanted to be thought of as a “good kid” and avoid being categorized as a “bad kid”. For we all know that once a child is marked as a troublemaker, it is very hard for others to shake that perception of him, or for him to shake that perception of himself.
That’s why the Youth PROMISE Act is such an important piece of legislation that deserves all our support, while a competing bill, the Gang Abatement and Prevention Act, needs to be defeated. Both serve presumably the same purpose – lowering crime rates and youth gang involvement – but the bills’ implementation could not be further apart. The Youth PROMISE Act would fund prevention and intervention programs like mentoring and job training to curb youth and gang violence. Meanwhile, the Gang Abatement Act would ineffectively focus on punishment and incarceration of juvenile offenders.
If passed, the Youth PROMISE Act would direct federal funding to local councils to develop plans for encouraging children in their transformative years. This would include prevention strategies – programs that steer at-risk youth away from gangs – as well as intervention strategies – programs aimed at kids who have already started down the wrong path. Through the creation of PROMISE Coordinating Councils (PCCs) comprised of parents, law enforcement, community and faith-based organizations, a community would create and decide on the comprehensive plan of action they would most benefit from – a job placement or mentoring program, a pre-K education course, a parenting skills class or other evidence-based programs. Whatever the community chooses, the programs will provide positive alternatives to street and gang activities; choices that so many young people are lacking today.
On the federal level, the Youth PROMISE Act would establish a National Research Center for Proven Juvenile Justice Practices and a Center for Youth-Oriented Policing to keep the public aware of new research, model training programs and practices related to gang activity and juvenile delinquency prevention.
If it takes a village to raise a child, what does it take to protect the children of the village? The Center for Disease Control reports that youth violence is the second leading cause of death for young people between the ages of 10 and 24; an average of 16 young people are murdered every day. As a village, Congressional leaders included, we ALL need to do our part to save our children. In these next few weeks, the United States Senate can vote for passage of the Youth PROMISE Act…but they will only act if we advocate! Now is the time for us to contact and visit our Senators today to let them know loud and clear that all children should receive the PROMISE of a safe and bright future.
This OpEd was written for Politic365 by Stefanie L. Brown and Rob Baker.
Stefanie L. Brown, a native of Bedford Heights, Ohio, is the National Field Director and Director of the Youth and College Division for the NAACP. A leading figure in community activism and youth organizing, Stefanie is a graduate of Howard University and resides in the Washington, DC area. Rob “Biko” Baker, a nationally recognized young leader, is the Executive Director of the League of Young Voters. Baker is a Ph.D. candidate at UCLA.