By Sam P.K. Collins
Community members who engage in discussions about young people and violent crime often fall into two categories: those calling for more parental and community accountability and others who demand an expansion of government services and job opportunities.
In recent weeks, the latter group has received much criticism from some people who’ve described Prince George’s County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks’ 30-day curfew order as long overdue. While some local organizers haven’t disregarded parental involvement as essential, they remain adamant about providing teenagers with viable alternatives to street life.
A group of young people recently explored these ideas during a panel discussion that allowed them to converse with local leaders and highlight their vision for the District.
The panel discussion on Saturday counted as part of the “Flip the Trap Kick-Off” anti-violence event hosted by Don’t Mute DC, DC Department of Employment Services, 202ForPeace, Black Coalition against COVID, The Rev. Tony Lee’s Hope in Action and the Go-Go Museum.
The youth involved in the project, also known as Hoodz Starz, spent more than a month in a training program where they learned about financial literacy and the effects of trauma. They also explored various career opportunities within the entertainment industry, including DJing, producing positive hip-hop content and event planning.
In the coming weeks, they will each receive a card that guarantees them discounts on clothing and access to exclusive events in the D.C. area.
“It was a great opportunity to learn [about] the things I want to do in life. So far, I’ve learned and talked to a ton of people about how to better yourself,” said Justus Williams, a 16-year-old Southeast resident and one of more than a dozen young people who organized the “Flip the Trap Kick Off.”
Justus, along with several community members and go-go aficionados, gathered at the Check-It Secret Garden in Southeast to party with TOB and Backyard Band.
The community discussion, moderated by DJ Quicksilva, featured Monster Corleone X Big Flock, known for what’s been described as a positive hit song “I’m Cappin,” as well as Big Court of No Limit Records, social worker Dr. Sheryl Neverson, Jehan El-Bayoumi of the Black Coalition against COVID and Jordan Williams, Hoodz Starz ambassador.
Earlier in the evening, Christopher Geldart, District deputy mayor for public safety and engagement provided comments. Rev. Lee, a guest that evening, received acknowledgement for his work with teen entrepreneurs. Justus also paid homage to adults in the program who dropped gems of wisdom.
“Young CEOs showed us how to make a business to solve problems,” Justus said.
“Some young people in the area we grow up in don’t have parents who are there for them so they go to the streets,” he said. “As long as there are programs and young people are willing to go to them, the safe spaces could push young people to do more for themselves and their families.”
As of September 12, the Metropolitan Police Department reported a 1% increase in reports of violent crime compared to the same time last year. Robbery and homicide count among the most prevalent of offenses, which some advocates describe as a sign of persistent socio economic issues gripping marginalized communities.
On Sunday, the Hoodz Starz, along with Monster Corleone X Big Flock and Jawanna Hardy of Guns Down Friday, made the rounds in Prince George’s County. They spoke before the congregation of Rev. Lee’s Community of Hope AME Church in Hillcrest Heights, Maryland.