By Rosaland Tyler
New Journal and Guide
Black Women for Positive Change held its eighth annual Violence Prevention Week in 40 cities throughout the U.S. in mid-October and will sponsor more events in 2020.
But what will the 11-year-old organization do for an encore since its recent anti-violence program included a peace walk in Pittsburgh that attracted over 800 high school students? In Washington, D.C, hundreds turned out for the “Violence is not Normal” town hall meeting on Oct. 19 at the RISE Demonstration Center.
“We will continue to concentrate on changing the culture of violence and focus on how to increase economic opportunities so that young people understand that they can make other choices about violence,” said Daun Hester, a national co-chair of Black Women for Positive Change, and a Norfolk, Va., resident.
“We will also work with Norfolk Police Chief Larry D. Boone as it relates to youth violence,” said Hester, referring to the anti-violence committee Boone announced plans to form in August after 10 people were shot and five killed, one in a stabbing, in a one-week span.
“The police chief is concerned,” Hester said. “Young people need more opportunities. Instead of complaining, I want to put a job application in their hands so that they will learn the advantage of responsibility. I also want to stress respect what it really is, and how you can use respect to control your response (in a potentially violent situation). When we do our conference call, we will talk more about what we want to do next year,” Hester explained.
“During the course of the year I also plan to talk to students and ask them to take the Peace Pledge because bullying is a big problem in the community,” said Hester, who joined the organization in 2011 – (after the multi-ethnic organization which has female and male members – changed its name from Black Women for Obama to Black Women for Positive Change three years after it was launched in 2008).
Many of the organization’s members are local community leaders like Hester.
She made history as the first African American woman elected to Norfolk City Council, where she served from 1996-2010, and was vice mayor from 2004-2008. She was a Democratic member of the Virginia House of Delegates, having won a special election on Dec. 18, 2012, in the 89th district in Norfolk. In 2010, Hester unsuccessfully ran for mayor against the incumbent, Paul D. Fraim. In November 2017, she was elected Norfolk treasurer after winning 54 percent of the vote. She worked for Norfolk Public Schools for 22 years.
In other words, Hester’s high profile brings the non-profit’s “couple of hundred members nationwide” sharply into focus. Some of its members are pictured on its website including Charlene Butts Ligon, who wrote the book, “Fearless” about her mother Evelyn Butts, a local civic organizer. Ligon is a Norfolk native, a retired Air Force master sergeant, and lives in Bellevue, Neb., with her husband Robert.
The website also includes a photo of Dr. Amelia Ross-Hammond, a retired Norfolk State University professor who served on Virginia Beach City Council from 2012-2016. She is also the founder and chairman of the African American Cultural Center of Virginia Beach.
Black Women for Positive Change has two goals, said co-chair Dr. Stephanie Myers, who resides in Washington, D.C., and helped launch the original organization in 2008. “Our leaders develop violence prevention events. And our leaders continue to strengthen and expand opportunities for people to climb the economic ladder.”
Myers served as a presidential appointee for 12 years and authorized the first U.S. commercial space launch of a privately owned rocket. The author of “Invisible Queen,” Myers is also the vice president of R.J. Myers Publishing and Consulting Co., a minority-owned small business in the District of Columbia.
According to the CDC, homicide is the leading cause of death among African American adolescent males to the point that one researcher characterized it as a national health problem. African American teens are three to five times more likely than Caucasian youth to be murder victims, more likely to be victims of robbery, and aggravated assault.
“Moreover, African American teenagers commit about 80 percent of the violent crimes perpetrated against African Americans between the ages of 12 and 19, and 90 percent of the offenders and the victims are male,” Anthony D. King wrote in a 1997 report titled “Understanding Violence among Young African American Males: An Afrocentric Perspective.”
King added, “These trends are not new. African American males of all ages have had one of the highest, if not the highest, homicide in the nation for almost 100 years. What appears to be unique about the present situation is the extensive involvement of adolescent and young adult African American males in violent activities. Nevertheless, statistically speaking, violence has always been one of the leading public health problems for African American male adolescents and young adults.”
The problem is a 2014 Media Matters study showed that NYC media coverage of African American suspects was way out of proportion to African American arrest rates. This means that while the media reported on murder, theft, and assault cases in which African Americans were suspects, the coverage rate far outpaced the actual arrest rates for these crimes.
Numerous experts argue violence is a complex problem. The problem stretches back through history Jennifer Rae Taylor said in a May 16 article posted on the American Bar Association website. She pointed to mob violence as well as the violence that many individuals experienced during the struggle for civil rights.
Taylor asked, “Did this lay the groundwork for the inequality and injustice we face today?
Myers acknowledged that violence is not a new problem. “Yes, the issue of historic and current violence is a major problem facing America today,” she said. “This is what we must change: The culture of violence. However, we went from slavery to independence, so the point is we know it is possible to change the culture of this nation. We have to focus on it and do it to save the lives of people from all backgrounds.”
Myers added, “We are a multicultural and intergenerational organization. We have members who are working or retired. We also have a lot young people and we are an interfaith organization.”
The non-profit aims to make a dent in the problem and its website contains many resources including two videos that offer alternatives to violence: “Drop,” and “On Second Thought.”
Christian (c-steeze) Suttons, a 22-year-old University of the District junior who is majoring in business management, described the recent Violence Prevention Week, he attended in Washington, D.C. in mid-October. “It was very empowering to attend the town hall meeting in Washington, D.C.,” he said. “I enjoyed the panel discussions and the different strategies that the panelists offered.”
Suttons, who presented some of his poetry at the weeklong event, added, “So what are some of the lessons I learned that stick in my mind? I learned some kids don’t have an extensive vocabulary and it can lead to violence when they are in public and acting aggressively. That lesson stood out. You need to educate your kid so that he learns how to use his mind as a weapon so he learns how to use words positively instead of negatively.”
On a scale of 10, Suttons said he would rate the recent conference at 9. “It was well organized, he said. “People on the panel were well informed and conducted themselves in a professional manner. The people who attended were pushing for change in their community. They want to improve people’s lives. I feel everybody shared the same mindset: How can we make a change and turn things around in our area?”
Another student who attended the recent conference in Washington, D.C. is Corbin Flaherty. He said the recent conference helped him mull over alternatives to violence.
“They had slides and speakers who discussed violence,” said Flaherty, 16, an honor roll sophomore at Archbishop Carroll High School in Washington, D.C.
“They each told their own stories,” Flaherty said, citing one his favorite speakers. “Susan Bro (mother of Heather Heyer, who was killed at the August 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville) told us how her daughter was killed in Virginia for protesting white supremacy. Her story touched me because I feel we should be able to have these kinds of discussions without violence.”