KC and Jamil are joined by three student activists who helped raise awareness towards gun violence in the New Haven area. How can it be prevented? And how can more people go out there and make a difference?
Well, welcome back. KC, I cannot believe we are in January of theSpeaker:
new year. It is hard to believe. It is, it is.Speaker:
Oh, yes, no. Everyone, KC's just nervous, it's the new year... Oh, comeSpeaker:
on. We're in January, folks. Okay, we're pretending, we're recording inSpeaker:
December. Before Christmas. We're tired. We were just trying to like, summonSpeaker:
the New Year's vibes, the well rested, ready to start the new year,Speaker:
'Cause that's when ya'll are listening to this episode. You're listeningSpeaker:
to this episode in 2022, and we are coming to you fromSpeaker:
2021. I'm hoping the new year will go better than this previous year.Speaker:
Yeah, yeah, a lot of big things happened in 2021.Speaker:
And, you know, in higher education in K 12 education, it has beenSpeaker:
a really brutal year, and particularly a brutal semester for folks.Speaker:
So yeah, really hoping for 2022 to, to lighten up a littleSpeaker:
on that, that load. And so we, you know, we just had aSpeaker:
really fun conversation with some of my students. Yes.Speaker:
From the communication department, our department. Our department. Yes,Speaker:
the capstone class talking about gun violence. Every 10 minutes in America,Speaker:
one person dies of gun violence. So it's a serious topic and itSpeaker:
impacts many people, it impacts us here in Connecticut, and we had aSpeaker:
conversation talking about their experience planning your program aroundSpeaker:
raising awareness. Yeah, they, you know, I'm so proud of this group ofSpeaker:
students, it was just five students who put on this huge event,Speaker:
connecting the community and folks who are, you know, taking action aroundSpeaker:
youth gun violence, which is a really big problem in New Haven.Speaker:
And connecting them with a campus community, helping us to really realizeSpeaker:
our social justice mission, to get people involved.Speaker:
Because a lot of times, even though we are of the community,Speaker:
at this school, I think a lot of times people, they come here,Speaker:
and then you know, teach their classes or go to their classes,Speaker:
and then they leave, and they go home, even if they're still stayingSpeaker:
in Connecticut, I think sometimes we're... We're not really serving theSpeaker:
community where we're located. That's a theme throughout our state. AndSpeaker:
I can think of many ways in whichSpeaker:
folks work in one area and live in others and what does thatSpeaker:
mean for community belonging, but that's a different rant. But kudos toSpeaker:
you for assigning such a project to your students. Thank you. And ISpeaker:
hope this inspire faculty from our university and other universities toSpeaker:
think about critical ways that their students can solve social problems,Speaker:
social change, connect with the community, you know, find something they'reSpeaker:
passionate about, and use the skill that they're learning in the classroomSpeaker:
to do something powerful with it. Right, yeah. I mean, we do reallySpeaker:
have a unique opportunity as educators that and people in higher ed,Speaker:
like, How do we, How do we give back? How do weSpeaker:
create spaces for community events? Community organizing? How do we contributeSpeaker:
to our communities? We have a lot to offer, whether that's research,Speaker:
whether that's, you know, students who might participate in a mentoringSpeaker:
program, in the community, all kinds of the ways that we canSpeaker:
engage and give back. And, as opposed to just sitting in the classroomSpeaker:
and just, you know, assigning... I think about like, you're in class,Speaker:
right? You're a student, you write a paper, Professor reads it. Boom, that'sSpeaker:
it. You get a grade. And then what, I mean, I can't like backSpeaker:
when, like, students were turning in paper... Papers. You know, what doSpeaker:
you see, like at the... When you get papers back? You see allSpeaker:
of them in the trash can. Not all of them.Speaker:
I kept all of my papers, I will add. Of course you did.Speaker:
I do did. And they're categorized by class. Oh, my gosh,Speaker:
in your filing cabinet? They are, they are in a filing cabinet. Yeah. LikeSpeaker:
the point is like, how can, and of course scholarship is important.Speaker:
It's important to do things like writing is a way of understanding somethingSpeaker:
deeply. It's a big way that we learn. So I'm not saying thatSpeaker:
that's not important. But I'm saying in addition to that,Speaker:
how can we empower our students to be activists? Yes,Speaker:
'cause it took many skills for your students to accomplish this event andSpeaker:
trust you all will hear more about this event in a little bit,Speaker:
but skills like public speaking, organizing, contacting community members,Speaker:
marketing, putting the word out, talking and facilitating with each otherSpeaker:
around decisions they should make. Right. Deadlines. Yeah, so you'll getSpeaker:
a little sort of peek behind the curtain with three out of theSpeaker:
five students who put this event on hoping to inspire both students,Speaker:
faculty folks listening, that you know, you can,Speaker:
there's opportunity there to create meaningful change, where perhaps youSpeaker:
didn't see a possibility before. So today, KC, we are talking with yourSpeaker:
capstone class. We are talking with some of my students today.Speaker:
Yes. How exciting, how exciting. And they did a project on gun violence.Speaker:
Yes. So in the capstone class, so this is seniors in communication,Speaker:
some of whom have studied, like you did, Interpersonal Professional Communication,Speaker:
some who are digital, like filmmakers, digital production, and then othersSpeaker:
who do advertising and promotion. So we have all of these like amazingSpeaker:
skill sets. We bring the class together at the end,Speaker:
and students come up with a social justice project, you know, like theySpeaker:
look for a problem where, you know, social justice problem where communicationSpeaker:
can have an impact, and whether they can take the skills that they've learnedSpeaker:
and really create a project that contributes to their community. Yes, mineSpeaker:
was food security. And yours, I was thinking about this yours was really,Speaker:
I mean, it got interrupted by the pandemic. It was Spring 2020.Speaker:
Yes. And we all pulled it together. But it was...Speaker:
I think we gave you all a great report on food insecurity. Yeah. Yeah, butSpeaker:
really it's too bad that that did get interrupted. Well, that's okay.Speaker:
I'm glad... Theirs did not... Because I heard they had a very successfulSpeaker:
program. Yes, one of the... Actually, one of the biggest eventsSpeaker:
on campus, all semester... I think the second biggest eventSpeaker:
of the semester on campus. Well, congratulations to all of you. So todaySpeaker:
we have... So actually, my class was split into two.Speaker:
Two different projects. One group worked on mental health. And this groupSpeaker:
worked on preventing youth gun violence. So we have three of the fiveSpeaker:
group members here with us today. We have Shay Smith, Nik'Kiyah Brown, andSpeaker:
Kayla White. Welcome to the three of you. Thanks for being here. Thank
Yeah, thank you for having
us. Yeah, great to have you all here. Okay, so
I wanna start with you, Shay. So you're... At the beginning of the
semester, everyone comes up with an idea, they pitch their idea to the
class, and then we sort of hash it out from there.
So your idea... Your original idea was a different one, and it's the
one that sparked this particular project. So can you tell us about...
What was the genesis of this project? So the original idea was to
pair with Valley Street Community Center, kind of get in there, see leaders,
work with the kids, work with the youth. I wasn't aware that it
was opening back up, so when I saw a post on Instagram saying
that they needed help, I thought, "This is a great opportunity for my
classmates or for Southern to get involved with New Haven." So that was
the original thought, was to pair up with the Valley Street Community Center.
Yes, and so the Valley Street Community Center is very close to our
campus, and Shay you are from New Haven. Nik'Kiyah you're from New Haven.
The two of you are from this area, and both of you have
been directly impacted by youth gun violence. Would you talk about how that
led you to create this project? I lost my close friend to gun violence,
recently, and that was kind of the first interaction that I really had
that really hit home for me. So when that happened, I immediately thought,
like, "This is a big problem." And it just... It continued. So I
really wanted us to try to tackle this issue... The youth is a
big part of New Haven, and these innocent kids are dying. So I
felt like a great way to try to tackle the issue is was to first, raise
awareness. Because a lot of people don't know what really goes on in
New Haven, and how much it really affects the youth. So raising awareness
was my first thought, automatically. And I felt like using the senior capstone
course was a great opportunity to do this.
Yeah, and Nik'Kiyah, you've had some experience working directly with youth
as a mentor, and you've seen how that can make a difference,
right? Oh yes, I worked for... I worked at least for two years...
It's a non profit organization that works closely with the youth in high
poverty neighborhoods, around the city of New Haven. So during my time as
a counselor it's like, I would see how
the outside life impacts the children. Not only how they react,
but their mental state in school. And then it's like they have to
return back to it. And it plays a big role in their life,
because they're just kids so... They've been introduced to a lot of things
that they don't even understand, but they have to get accustomed to it
and they have to know that it's a part of their life now,
and I feel like it's sad. And then having to deal with it
personally I feel like if I can help prevent it
I would and I wouldn't hesitate and I would do it anytime. Yeah,
and Kayla, what was it that had you... You were one of the
first to join the project. There were actually some people who came,
some people who went during moments of trouble, we'll get into the sort
of behind the scenes... The difficulties in planning a large project.
But there were people who came and went. Kayla, you were there from
the start. So what brought you to the project?
Honestly, what brought me to the project was that I had recently
just had gone through my own experience with gun violence. My...
Last April, my ex boyfriend was actually shot with nine times in Stanford.
It was all over the news. He was murdered. And like Shay said,
I've been around gun violence, but like this is where it really hit home
for me. And I'm still healing from it. It's hard.
And it's just... I was one of the first people to raise my hand in
class to join because I just wanted to make a difference.
And I wanted to bring awareness to it, because I felt like I
couldn't really do anything else to prevent what happened. So I thought,
this would be a better way to kind of honor his life, and make a difference.
To make sure that this doesn't happen. It's not like... It doesn't happen
again, basically. I don't want it to happening happen again at all.
So that was my reason in joining. Yeah, and I... I'm so glad
that you are all here having this conversation with us today,
because it's such a big and complex problem. It impacts so many people,
and there is not a single or easy solution...
So what ended up happening... Let's just... Let's just... Let me pause on
this and say... Initially y'all were thinking like... Okay, this community
center is opening back up. We're gonna go. We'll hang out with the
kids. And we're gonna play some games. Michael Tompkins, he was really excited
to play some tabletop games with some kids and video games.
I'm getting flashbacks to Lighthouse. I used to volunteer for the Lighthouse
program like that. Right. And so that's what really we thought we would...
Hopefully develop partnerships with these... The community center to get
our college students mentoring youth... Our youth. Yeah. The youth in the
community. So then it turns out... Hey that... The center's not opening
until 2022. So, heart stop. What happened Shay? I don't know if you
remember this far back. This was probably September, a few months ago.
What happened once we figured that out? How did we sort of pivot
the project? So once we heard that, it was kind of like,
"Oh God, what are we gonna do now?" The team was kind of
like, "Well, now we have to pivot and go a different route,"
so we started brainstorming in class, we started
doing a lot of research into this topic, seeing where else we could
help and sit in and raise awareness. And actually,
one of my other group members, Michael, he came up with this great
idea of having an event, and from there we just took it and ran with
it. Meanwhile I was like, I don't know if you wanna have an
event. The stakes are high when you host an event, first of all,
second of all... There where definitely some like moments with the event
where I feel like we kind of were like all leading weeding off, but
honestly, Jamil honestly really helped us to be like, okay, set on an
event. 'Cause But he told us what we had to do,
who to contact, and then when we also got in contact with,
this is what we're doing, this is how we're gonna do a our project.
Yeah so there were a couple of moments, and we're gonna talk about
phoning a friend, I don't know where ever that comes from,
the game show where you phone a friend and they help you answer
the question. Anyway that's... Yes, yes. 'Who wants to be a millionaire?'
Yeah that one, we're... None of us are millionaires, but Jamil, you were
a key part of this project because a lot of... For a little
while, I was really trying to steer you all away from doing an
event to think like, "Okay, maybe we can could do a documentary,
maybe we can do something else, but is an event the thing,
is that the thing that's gonna make the biggest difference?" And I was
not sure about that. And can five people pull off this big thing?
Absolutely. Right. So, we're in class one day and I honestly,
I had no idea what advice to offer you all we were at
a dead end, and I texted Jamil real quick. Hey are you around...
Always happy to help. "Can we call you?" And we FaceTimed him. And
then so, what happened in that conversation, like you're just... What were
you even doing when we called you, you had no... I think I
was taking a nap. I'm not gonna lie to you, I think I
was taking a nap, but it was a good reason to disturb a
nap, I think so myself. But yeah I was excited to hear what
the students had in mind in terms of for our their an event.
I have lots of experience with events on campus, as you know,
creating large events, small events for different organizations on campus.
So it's really about figuring out where they were, to get them to
where we needed them to be, in order to pull off such a
large event because honestly, it's a few simple skills, like
booking the room, who are you going to invite, how many speakers,
who's going to be in charge of what. And so I don't think
my contribution was huge, it was just helping you all get organized in
terms of what needed to happen next. And also the confidence piece.
Nik'Kiyah, I remember your attitude, walking out of the classroom that day,
you were like, "Wow", you were like a new person.
Yeah, I don't know, I know we were stressing a lot because our
grade was on the line, but it wasn't only our grade, it's like... It
was something we had been passionate about, and we already set our hopes
high... So we felt like we have had to settle for less just
to get a grade, and then to hear that, get some the motivation,
take some notes, finally get some structure or some sort of idea of
what we wanted to do. It made a big difference, 'cause we knew
we were was heading in the right direction, we knew it was something
we were capable of doing, and I think
that's what was holding us back, we didn't think we were capable of
doing it, we were selling ourselves short. And Kayla, talk to us about...
So the initial idea was, "Hey, let's mentor some youth," we know that
makes a difference in preventing youth gun violence, and especially around
age 14, 15, 13, but the event ended up being a little different. So Kayla,
would you talk to us about what the event
ended up being? And then we're gonna actually hear some clips from the
event. Honestly, the event really, how big the turnout was really shocked
me 'cause we... From the get go we wanted this to feel be very
impactful. Because of the fact that we were all very passionate about it.
So, we ended up having so many speakers come, thanks to Michael reaching
out to a lot of people with... A lot of people turned out
and there were some doubts with... Not with the speakers, but with students
coming, we were very worried that, there's there was gonna be a lot
of speakers and not a lot of audience members to listen to what
we wanted to say and what they wanted to say.
But it ended up like for example, I reached out to President Joe
to come speak and he didn't really know if he's gonna come, and out of now
where he just popped in at the event and we were all like do you wanna speak?
Say something if you want? I think we all were just very very
shocked at the turnout, 'cause we were not... We were expecting a small
event. But KC said we had the second biggest event on campus,
I was shocked, I was not expecting that big of a turnout and
it exceeded our expectations. And so Shay, what was the goal of the
event? Who was speaking? Who was the audience? What was the purpose,
the intention? So of course, it was to raise awareness. It was also
to connect the SCSU community with New Haven,
Southern makes up a huge part of New Haven, so just making that
connection was really our main goal, we we've had organizations come speak,
we we've had mothers, parents of victims who lost their lives to gun violence,
so it was really about just here is who is available in New Haven where
who you can go to. And this is also what happened
to these victims. So It was a mixture of raising awareness and also
it was kind of like an emotional touch side to the event as
well. So yeah. Yeah, I think college students,
there's a lot of... Have y'all heard the term slacktivism? Where you're
like, Oh, if you like this, or you reshare this and then you're
like, "Okay, I did my activism today." I think that there are a
lot of students, a lot of people in general want to make a
difference, who want to get engaged with the community and they don't necessarily
know how to do it. Yeah, I think college students have access and
resources during this period of their life that they necessarily won't necessarily
have in others. When you go to a university, you're connected with hundreds
or if not thousands of students around your similar age, having similar
interest, tends to be around other faculty that can help shape and provide
further resources, you can tap into the resources of your administration,
to help further social causes, like we have been doing for the last
couple of decades. Yeah. And there are also a number of different programs
on campus, from communication to sociology to folks training to be mental
health counselors, social workers. Social workers. And there are placements
and internships and all sorts of opportunities to connect, to better connect
our campus to the community that we live in. And you're right, Shay, I mean,
there are folks who listen to this podcast from other universities,
from other places not affiliated with the universities.
But one thing I'll say about our school is that... And it's true,
a lot of states have schools that are similar to ours in some
way or another, where 96%, 97% of our students come from Connecticut.
And most people stay in Connecticut. Yes. So we really serve this community,
it's very different than a place like Yale, where people come from outside,
they come from around the world, to go to school there.
And then they leave, some people stay, obviously. But
that's a very different model for a school. So I think that we
have... I mean, any university has a responsibility to the community they
reside in and the people who work there, and the people who they
serve as an institution of higher education, but I think that we have
a particularly strong relationship with our community. But also, there's
some pretty big gaps that I think especially as a so called social
justice University, we can do better. And I think that all three of
you, all five of you really saw that, that gap and wanted to
help fill it. So how did you all feel? Because I'm curious.
It's not every day in a college classroom, that you get assigned to
do a project around activism, around social change. Did you enjoy this as
being a part of your formal education as an assignment? So I did,
I enjoyed it a lot. I'm a senior. So I've had many classes,
many communication classes. But this class actually made me get out and
do something that I was passionate about, that I found
very close to home. So when he assigned this, I was like,
"Yes, this is my opportunity to do something that
I really care about." So when I saw the Valley Street community center
or all this stuff, I was like, "This is a great opportunity."
Unfortunately it didn't work out. But the event still allowed me to broadcast
my interest in what I was passionate about. So
at the end, it was kind of like...
This was amazing... And I personally have never had KC Before. I was
actually scared to take his class because I thought he was...
Stop. Yes. Why? So what when wait a minute. I
thought... I don't know... I thought KC was mean just... I don't know. What?
I'm so used to having three professors in communication. So when I took
KC I was like, "I don't know what to expect in this class,
it's a capstone class, I'm gonna write a paper."
My mind was all over the place. But when he assigned this assignment,
I was like, "Wow, this is something that I could do."
KC is a great professor. I mean I had him before and this was
the beginning stages of my communication degree. It was a fun class.
And I haven't had him for a while. But when I seen him for
Comm 450, I knew it was gonna be a great class.
He always challenges his students to do something different. And I feel
like that's why I enjoyed this his class a lot because it challenged me
to do something different. Come out of my comfort zone. I know if
it wasn't for this class I would never have probably hosted an event on
campus. It's just something I'm not I used to... You know I like
to speak on things I'm interested in but as far as like hosting an event,
I knew I couldn't do that. But like with KC's urge to challenge us, it definitely
gave me that push that I needed to do something different.
And it had a great outcome. I enjoyed every part of it and in
the class itself it made me interested in the class and want to come
to the class and want to engage in the class.
Well, let's... At this point, I wanna play
for our listeners some audio from the event. So Shay and Nik'Kiyah, you
two were the hosts and I took a couple of clips from
your introductory speeches to the crowd. So we're gonna listen to those
clips now. And then I wanna talk to you about, what was the
experience of emceeing a large event you all put a lot of time
and effort into preparation and making sure that you
were mentally, physically prepared to do this. So let's listen to this and
then I wanna ask you about your experience. We have people from all different
walks of life in this room here today.
We have some people who have been deeply affected by the issues of gun violence
and others who have not. In this room here today we have community
members, Southern alum, students, faculty, staff, parents, but although
our times may be different, we all have the ability to help tackle the issue
of gun violence. In my time as a counselor I've noticed that the youth is
being dragged into the reality of the violence in the city...
Lives are being taken. Hearts are being shattered, families are being broken...
I took on the task to do this project,
so we can provide the SCCM family with the right resources to help
prevent gun violence ourselves. Being in the a university big on social
justice, this is a social injustice we can
all prevent ourselves. Alright, so it's not every day that you emcee, an
event of this size bringing in people from the community to talk about
something that's really hard to talk about, to have the media there,
to have all of those people in the audience, I mean,
standing remotely in the ballroom. So what was that experience like?
If you think about your growth as a student, as a person,
is it this something that you felt like you could have done before?
I mean, does this change how you think about what you might do
in the future? So for me, let me just say this, I am
very shy. What? I am very shy. I spoke to KC prior to
the event at in the beginning of class, expressing my interest in what
I wanna do after leaving College. So when he gave me this task of
emceeing the event, I was like, Oh my God, how am I going to emcee an event
like... Perfect, great. I It was like What?
I'm so nervous, I was nervous before we even started planning,
like it was crazy, but throughout the process, my team, my team was
very very helpful. They kept giving me words of encouragement, you know,
they just made me go harder, and made me actually want to emcee the event.
I had a great team, and then getting closer to the event, I felt like so
I was getting stronger, like I was capable of doing it.
I saw my growth, personally, I saw my own growth, and then just
watching the clips from the event and just watching myself on the news,
I was like, Shayna, what were you scared of? You literally killed it,
you killed it. So just looking back from the first day thinking of
planning the event, to after the event it was like a tremendous growth,
like it was just crazy. I'm so glad to hear you own that,
because I think a lot of times people diminish their own accomplishments,
I'm obviously so proud of you all, but for you to say like,
Wow, I did that. Yes, it's a big deal, and when the more
you do it, the more confident and better at it you're you'll get
'cause it's the idea that is scarier than the actual task itself.
Yep, absolutely. How about for you, Nik'Kiyah? I just wanna say... Oh, go
ahead, Kayla. I'm sorry. I just wanted want to say, I am so
proud of Nik'Kiyah and Shay because they were naturals at this. They just
were so comfortable speaking, and I would have been nervous. And like Shay,
she memorized her thing in like two days, she like read it to class
and then two days later, she's reading it for us and I was
like, with nothing, I was like, you memorized that in two days?
That's insane. When but you guys did so well, and I saw both of you grow,
'cause you were both nervous. And I was like they, they're gonna kill this.
They do not doubt yourselves because you you've got this and I am so
proud of you guys. Thank you. I definitely... I think I was insulted at
first... No Now, I wouldn't say I was scared because
I don't know, I'm always the one that do does the talking out
of everybody, like my friend groups and stuff, like I'll speak up first
but I definitely was scared because I didn't know
what type of crowd we were walking into. I knew that this was
a serious matter, and I knew how much... How many doors this can open
for us, so having that little pressure, it did make me nervous.
I didn't even memorize what I was supposed to say, I just was
like, if I keep trying to read it off the cards, I'm gonna
mess up, so I just said Forget it, and I just started to
talk and it started to come and I'm like, Alright, I got this.
But to actually just be up there, having all those faces looking at
you... It's all so good because it's definitely not something that I thought
I can do. I definitely appreciate everyone in my group because we all
worked together, it's not like anyone have has to feel like they did
it on their own, we all were there to help each other and
build off of each other. Yeah, and Nik'Kiyah, one thing that... Like the
care with which you all emceed that event is one thing,
like what you were talking about like this is a serious issue and
people are coming with a lot of... Trauma. Trauma. Frustration. Yes. Sadness,
hardships, you know when gun violence happens to a person, it doesn't just
happen to that individual, it happens to their family, their friends,
their loved ones, it takes a toll on entire communities.
Yeah, and you know, actually, Jamil, you didn't plan this, but that's a
really good segue to hearing... I have two more clips to play for
us, I'll play one of them right now,
this is Marlene Miller Pratt, one of the founders,
the main founder of the New Haven Botanical Garden for Healing,
which is also... It's very close to that community center that'll be opening
up, a beautiful healing space, but let's hear from her now,
she talks about that toll. 0:33:06.3Marlene Miller Pratt:. Age? Age 19.
People, I'm... This is Pamela Jane Henson. And Pam is also working with
me on in the botanical garden. I am a Southern Connecticut State University
alumni, 1985. And it's a pleasure to be back here.
My son lost his life in 1998. And
you're hearing them in 2000, you are hearing them, just recently.
I go back to 1998, and I still hurt. I still hurt. So,
I don't even know how to comfort the Scott, or Nikki, or
anyone else because, going back that long and to say to them that the
pain never goes away. A mother's love, and then to lose that child
from here. It leaves a void. And so at that time,
I thought when I went to the mayor's office, and then looking for a spot
to do a botanical garden, I was thinking maybe 50, 60 people,
70 people. And when I went to the police station to get the list, it was
684 names in New Haven alone. And then, looking at those names, and
looking at the years and the ages, while I was accumulating that list. It's
on my mind of knowing that this was my city. This is was where I
grew up. And what my city had become. So I was on a mission, there for something
to remember every child. I didn't want a parent to have to go
to the cemetery like me, and say " We do know the cemetery but when
you go to the cemetery, you sit in that cemetery, and that cemetery reminds
you of the day that you have had to put on your all black, and
you have had to lower that casket into the ground. It's not a
good feeling. It reminds you of that tragedy that took place. So, we
had to create something that was gonna to be beautiful. Something that was
gonna not just be beautiful for the parents and their families, but to
bring awareness to the city. That's a speaker there. That's a speaker.
Oh I felt that. I did. So, in Connecticut, I'm thinking about how
gun violence is the second leading cause of death for children and teens.
Disproportionately affecting young Black men in Connecticut, right? It's
happening in our major cities. It's happening in New Haven. It's happening
in Hartford. It's happening in my hometown of Bridgeport. And I think about
growing up in the inner city and how normalized gun violence feels as
a young person, right? Knowing that your friends are walking around with
guns, because that's the lifestyle so many folks in our inner city are having
to live. And to think about children, 15,
16, 17, young people, vulnerable people in our inner cities
that are losing their lives every day to gun violence.
How many mothers, how many fathers, how many brothers, are carrying caskets
or are mourning? And so, it's beautiful to think about us as a
community coming together and healing. I often think about because I'm first
gen and this always comes to my mind.
How can we re enter the communities that raised us?
Especially being from Bridgeport, everyone would tell me you have to get
out of the city, you can't be here.
Go get your degree Jamil, go get a nice job and leave is
what I was always told. But I think about the impact
that we have as college students. The impact that we now have to
have access to this kind of resources that we probably did not grow
up with. I know I didn't ain't grow up with this kind of
resource. And the impact we can could have going back and talking to
our young teens, telling them the opportunities that we have, things that
we see, the dreams that we're living. Because it's often hard for folks
that are growing up in these communities to see and believe,
and even know somebody that are experiencing what we're experiencing, and
maybe provide a little hope for them to escape gun violence.
I didn't meet a person with a degree until I got to college
that looked like me. And so, it's powerful going home
to our inner cities and telling our youth that there's another way to
live. And being a part of that change. So, I really enjoyed that
speaker. So, Marlene, yes, Marlene is a an educator in our community.
So, she's like so many people, she went to school here.
She learned how to be a teacher here.
She lost her son and has been a lifelong activist in his honor,
in creating these healing spaces. But one thing
we talked a lot about as a group was trauma, and
wanting to be mindful of... We can't just...
You can't just go up to someone and ask them to bare their
soul and talk about the worst thing that has ever happened to them
in their life. That we to be take care with people who have
experienced trauma. But also, we have to talk about this issue.
And how do we balance that ethically? And how do we also not
lay too much on the audience so that they just people feel re
traumatized and whatever they've experienced. So, that question about
how do we deal with people's with what they've experienced, but do that
in a careful, mindful, thoughtful way towards making a difference and towards
healing? Do you all remember any of those conversations, or how we
came to the decision to invite some mothers to speak? I know I personally
feel inviting the mother to come speak would be probably one of the
most impactful ways to get the audience to understand where we were coming
from. I felt like we needed someone who
not only experienced it, but experienced it first hand, that's a mother
losing their child. So I feel like that was one person that could relay
their feelings and relay a message the best way, because they've been there
for every part of that person's life. So
maybe them experiencing that and hearing their experience, can get people
to understand that's not a path they would like to walk.
I know personally, when the mother spoke at the event, I started crying.
And just to look around the room and to just see how everyone
felt, that pain that they were feeling, it was like,
this is why we're having the event. It's like the aura in the
room, it was crazy. It was very touching, I felt like having a mother
speak at the beginning really set the tone for the rest of the
event. Yeah, I was crying too when the mothers were speaking because it
was so emotional and it just hit home. And I was looking around the
audience when those mothers were speaking and the looks on people's faces,
some of them was kinda like, oh, like they're realizing the reality of what
is happening, what these families are going through, they're losing their
loved ones, they're realizing the harsh reality of what gun violence is
doing to everyone, with whether you've experienced it or not, it's crazy.
There was no dry eyes in audience, everyone was crying. In seeing people
reacting that way to the mothers, it honestly was kinda moving in a
way because it really looked like what the mothers were saying and sharing
their stories was really impacting them and really making them think like,
"Wow, I don't wanna have to go through that." I'm thinking about the
role of universities in all of this. And
we're talking about students organizing, and because you assigned them this
project, we allowed a space to open up on campus
where folks can mourn, folks can be in community, folks can feel a sense
of belonging, a sense of kinship. 'Cause we get folks from all over
the state at Southern, students from all different walks of life, so students
that may have never even experienced gun violence can sit in that space
and understand its impact to all of us. And I even think about
how at Southern we do have a special connection to gun violence,
we have the Sandy Hook Memorial outside, how that's impacted our university.
Yeah, absolutely, gun violence is one of the great...
I don't know what to call it, problems of our time?
Tragedies of our time? But yeah, four of the educators who were killed
at Sandy Hook went to school here, were trained here, and we do
a memorial on campus, Sandy Hook is what, half hour? 40 minutes from
campus? Not even. Yeah, and that's all really close. And then we've had
a bunch of school lock downs since you all did the event the
last few weeks of 2021, there have been a number of
threats, it just continues, it continues on. I hear gunshots in my neighborhood,
and it's just the magnitude of the problem, but the ability also for
us to know that we can make a difference, 'cause I think when
we really get into trouble is when we think that nothing we do
matters in that case. And so I wanna play one last clip, this
is from Gwendolyn Williams, and Jamil she was another phone a friend moment
for the team. So she's the Director for Youth and Recreation Services for
the city of New Haven. And I, in my naivete thought that,
that meant basketball rec leagues, I'm thinking youth recreation, I'm thinking
basketball, that's the first thing I'm thinking, it's basketball. No, they
are a full family services, social services organization. So
she really breaks down some of the really like poverty issues that lead
to gun violence, but also creating hope and possibility for youth in the
city. So let's hear from her. Mental risk doesn't cost you a thing, it is
just your time. And you're pouring it and investing in another person who
may not have the same thing that you have, they may not have
a person giving them positive affirmations every morning, I love you,
you're beautiful, you're dope, you're my king, you're my home, you're my
princess, they may not have any one in their life that's giving that
to them, except they have to wake up every day,
and I am not giving you a hypothetical, I am telling you something we've
experienced because mum and dad weren't there. I need to get up, get my
younger siblings fed and off to school. I need to figure out a
way to get some money, so I can have some food for them when they get home,
keep the lights on. Stop the kids from bullying not just me.
But my siblings because we don't have all the fancy clothes. I go
outside and it's cold and I only have a sweatshirt to wear because
I don't have a coat. I'm struggling in school but the teacher constantly
kicks me out of class because I don't understand what's going on and
I start talking and misbehaving. But instead of asking me,
what's wrong, they accuse me of being bad for I had no value
and no good. That's the reality, and that
is what we're trying to change. You ma'am, you sir are the change
agent today in order to change the pattern of a young person.
Is it possible? I might be living in a dream world, well, guess what? I
like living this world, I truly believe that we can stop all of the gun
violence, I believe it. Yes, that is so perfectly said
as a way to explain to people that don't grow up in that
environment. I don't think folks can understand the weight that's on some
young people's shoulders, people that are 12, 13 taking care of their siblings,
taking care of themselves, probably taking care of their elders.
That's why I always believed in it takes a village to raise a
child. When a child enters school and their teacher views them as a
bad student, probably doesn't even live in that neighbourhood that child
lives in, unaware to the circumstances of this child's life will label them
as a bad child, even probably put them up for suspension without actually
going to the root of this child's issue.
So many children in our inner cities that don't have access to food.
There's so many problems that lean into gun violence,
that lean into that, our needs are not being met.
Yes, absolutely. And then there's addiction and then there's all kinds of
things that lead kids into not having that village of support that they
need and really, I think of the event as sort of an invitation
to people in the audience to join that village. Yes, especially with us
producing most of the educators going into our state.
Our School of Education is huge here, it's a big deal.
So for even those students to have access to event like this,
to hear speakers like that, that will better equip them to enter classrooms,
to understand their students and think of creative ways of being a part
of that solution, 'cause I even think about growing up in Bridgeport, where
are the places that our youth can go and be safe?
When my parents were growing up, they have the Boys and Girls Club,
they had the YMCAs. So many of those programs are not receiving funding,
so many of those programs are closing in cities across America,
programs where your parents that work throughout the night can drop you
off during the day, so you'll stay off the streets and stay safe.
I think about that often and how are we as young college students
going back to whatever little spaces we do have in our hometowns and
impacting those spaces? This is a good event. This was a good event, I
tell you. If we had more time, I'd play the full two hours
for you. So let me get... Yeah, before we let you go,
Shay and Kayla, what were your... What advice would you have for
students who wanna make a difference? Whether or not you all thought of
yourselves as activist before, you are now, so what advice would you have
for students who wanna make a difference but maybe they don't
have the confidence or the sense that... Or even where to start,
what advice do you have? I'll say the same thing that I told the news...
Boom. Like I told Channel 3. The news. The news. Alright, go ahead, girl.
I would say go to these organizations, they always need help.
Just get out there, put yourself out there, even if you think that you're
not helping in making a change, you are, you never know,
you just never know. So I would definitely say reach out to these organisations,
just start finding ways yourself to try to make a change. There's multiple
opportunities out there that are interested in these young students, especially
young students, because hearing stuff from up here, it's better. People
don't... A lot of kids don't listen to what adults have to say. Here we
have somebody who's close in age, they go to school, who are put in the
same team with you, something like that, it means a lot to them.
Yep. So I think there are two big takeaways on what you just
said, one being the opportunities are out there, just go connect with these
organisations. There are folks who are looking for your help. And the second
piece is to really... And I saw you do this this semester,
is to push yourself outside of your comfort zone. So when you have
that moment, when you're like, "Oh my God, what did I just do?"
then you do it or you know that that's sort of pushing the
edge in helping you grow. So if you're like, "Oh, I'm nervous to
call this person," or, "I'm nervous to show up to this event,"
to just pause for a second and then go ahead and do it.
Yes. Staying comfortable does not allow for growth. No, it does not.
Growth is not comfortable. But I can think of a thousand ways for
students to be impactful. Even with the issue of gun violence in America,
gun deaths, if you're a student and you're listening to this and you're
a Political Science student, maybe it's your job to work with legislators,
maybe go intern in Capitol Hill, go talk to politicians and come up
with creative issues. If you're a Comm student, host an event.
If you're in the School of Education, come up with comprehensive plans to
deal with students that are being impacted by gun violence in your class,
it's your project, right? The CDC for 20, 25 years were not allowed
funding for gun violence research. We need gun violence research badly,
they just were allowed funding in 2018. So... For anybody that's listening
at a university, faculty, grad students, undergrad students... That's what
we do right? Research. We do research. That's one of the most meaningful
ways we could actually help, is providing folks, non profits, government
officials with actual data and numbers. Absolutely. And you know Leonard
Jahad, one of our speakers, he called... Or no, was it Stacy Spell,
project longevity. He specifically asked for research. Yes. Like that as
well... And some folks are looking for people to play with kids after
school, some places are looking for that hard data to help them
really get at the root cause of the problem or raise grants.
All sorts of reasons. Yeah, especially if you go to a research institution.
I'm thinking of UConn. Yes. That's what we have. We have resources...
Yes. To do research. We have researchers that were trained,
and we can make a big difference in creating that... And I'm thinking
of faculty right now too. Faculty should be
assigning these kind of projects to students, you'd be amazed at what can
happen. Yeah. I mean, that's part of why I wanted to do this
podcast, was to sort of demystify, to show a behind the scenes for
how can we... We didn't solve gun violence,
but we also did more than raise awareness because there's a lot of
awareness out there for all that we know about, all the horrible things
happening in the world, right? We know about most of them,
many of them. But beyond that, what are we gonna do about it?
Alright. So Kayla, what were some of your... What advice would you have
for young student activists? I would just say,
if you're passionate about something and you wanna make a difference, do
it. Don't second guess yourself. And if you're scared to do it by
yourself, find people who have the same belief and have the same passion
of the same thing. If it wasn't for Shay and Nik'Kiyah, I would... I
don't know what I would have been doing in that class,
I don't know what our project would have been, but
we all have the same common passion and wanted to make a difference
about this. So just don't be scared, but just put yourself out there, get
out of your comfort zone, because you don't realize how much of a
difference you're gonna make until you do it. So just be confident in
yourself and do it. Like host an event, that's... To me,
that was a really impactful way to just raise awareness, so
just do it. Get to... You're gonna get stuck in the mud, but
you're gonna get out and... That's a great point. Just do it. Yeah.
I mean, there were so many times when you all were literally stuck
in the mud. And I don't know if you know this,
but it keeps me... I act like I'm fine all the time,
but I'm not, I'm not fine. This keeps me up at night.
You could ask my wife. There are weeks when I'm like,
I'm up at night, I can't fall asleep 'cause I'm thinking,
"I'm worried about this," or when I wake up at 3:00 in the
morning, I'm like, "Oh no, the event. What about this? What about that?
Can you all pull it off?" And obviously, I'm pushing you
outside of your comfort zones, but knowing full well that I have complete
confidence in your ability to do it. I'm not pushing you to do
something that I don't think you can actually do. But no,
this has been keeping me up at night also, so I think really...
Maybe that's a pretty important takeaway, is when people say no to you...
I mean, we experience setbacks at every point, whether that's getting the
brochures printed, inviting people, getting the space. I mean, it was like,
No, no, no, no, no, over and over and over.
And we had to keep going. And sometimes you just fail at things, and that's
perfectly fine as well. Which is also fine. I told them like, "The
project can fail. It doesn't mean you're gonna fail the class."
Yes. I have failed plenty events. I've had events where I have put
so much, I think about... There was this
Black voting program I hosted trying to get the Black residents of my
residence hall to vote, and I put together this gorgeous table of information,
I had this whole TED Talk speech I was ready to give about
Black voting rights and the rights of college students and organizing,
and only 25 students showed up, 25 Black students showed up.
And I was so sad 'cause I was like, "Oh my God,
I was preparing for 70 students, 80 students. I only got 25."
And then I sat down and I talked to them.
And I was giving them my TED Talk, and we started talking,
and the conversation expanded larger than voting rights. And I got all 25
of them registered to vote with a plan to vote,
and it became a healing space. So even though it wasn't the event I
expected, it was a really good event. That's a good takeaway too,
is like those 25 people needed to be there. Yes. And if you
get lost in the, "Oh, I wanted 75,"
then you're sort of missing what's actually happening right in front of
you. And sometimes smaller events is more intimate, they're just better
than an event with 500 people. Right, right. Yeah. So I think
that's another great takeaway, is to know that
on your path, that you will fail many times.
Yeah. And you will... Sometimes you'll exceed your expectations and sometimes
you'll fall below them, but it's all a part of the learning process
to get you to where you're gonna go, and all of it has a... Makes
an impact. Yes. You can't let nos and
"Failures", whatever that means, stop you. Yes. Work within your social
circles, work within your resources, and I guarantee you there is something
you can do. Look at us sounding all inspirational now, how great.
Starting off Season Four. Yes. Well, thank you all so much.
Thank you for being here. Shay, Kayla, and Nik'Kiyah, stay in touch with
us and let us know what you get up to next. Thank you