Stop the violence

28 Nov 2006

Last year, for the first time, my family and I decided to celebrate Kwanzaa instead of Christmas. The main reason for the change being that the focus of Christmas now seems to be all about buying/giving/getting the best/most expensive gifts, and not so much about family anymore.

We attended a lovely Kwanzaa dinner at Ryerson, and hosted a large dinner with friends at our home. We also reflected on each of the principles of Kwanzaa, and how we can incorporate them more in our daily lives, not only during Kwanzaa, but throughout the upcoming year.

And in the middle of the peace, joy, and reflection came the news of the horrible shooting that occurred on December 26th, 2005 on Yonge Street. 

I have been thinking and talking about this a lot. This is the first time since moving to Toronto 4 years ago that my family and I had decided not to go Boxing Day shopping downtown because, (as I mentioned previously), of the “commercialization” of the holiday season. So I can’t help but think that this awful tragedy could very well have happened to my teenage brother and sister. And I shudder at the thought each time it enters my mind. If shootings can occur downtown in broad daylight on the busiest shopping day of the year, or on the steps of a church, then we are all potential victims. Every single one of us.

These gangs are becoming bolder. They have no regard for human life, and they obviously do not give any thought to the consequences of their actions both to themselves and their community. And their actions do affect the community. They affect the victim’s families and friends, and also their own families, for the rest of their lives. In addition, these horrid actions of a few also taint the positive actions of so many others who choose to live their lives righteously. This reminds me of the opening scene of the movie Crash where the characters played by Ludacris and Larenz Tate are having a discussion on stereotypes. The Ludacris character talks at length about young black men always being regarded as a threat, and how it angers him when women see him and clutch their purse or walk a little faster. And just when I was becoming impressed with his ability to express his views on the subject so eloquently, he pulls a gun out of his pocket and proceeds to steal a couple’s SUV.

Not every black man is a threat and not every young man is a gang member. But, because of the foolish actions of a few, the majority is being forced to bear the brunt of increasing stereotypes.

But what about solutions to this violence?

Well, after every shooting, there is always a representative of some Black organization somewhere saying something about how “the government needs to do something” about the problem. And it usually involves money. The “solutions” to the increasing violence in Toronto always seem to involve money. I have yet to read anything in the papers about how communities or parents have a huge part to play in how children are raised, and what path they choose to follow in life. I was discussing the Boxing Day shooting with a friend recently and she told me about an old friend of hers with 3 teenage boys. She said that whenever she called her friend at night, or go over for a visit, her boys were never home, weekend or weekday nights. And when she would ask her friend where they were, she would just shrug and say “How am I supposed to know?”

I’ve also heard of a 15-year old girl whose parents (in the middle of an ugly divorce) “allow” her to get picked up for dates by her 21 year old boyfriend, because they’re too caught up in their own problems to even notice what she’s doing.

How people turn out as adults largely depends on their parents and how they were raised. Sure, there are exceptions. But, parents ultimately play the biggest role in their children’s lives, and more emphasis needs to be placed on that fact. Parents need to make sure that they are positive influences on their children. They need to lead by example. They need to become more involved in their children’s lives.

Sit down with your children. Have discussions with them. Ask them questions. Learn about them and what’s going on in their lives. Find out who they spend their time with, where they go, and what they do when they’re not at home. And it’s Ok to still have rules and curfew for your 17 year old kid. I always shake my head when I see a group of obviously young kids wandering the streets downtown at midnight. They are obviously not getting into any club, so what business do kids have roaming the streets at that time of night? It probably isn’t anything positive.

As for money being the solution to the violence, I think what we need more than money, is people. There are so many community and volunteer organizations in this city already, and they are all struggling to find volunteers. Those individuals who have grown up in “bad neighborhoods” and have become successful, self-sufficient, positive people need to come forth and donate some of their time to mentor Toronto’s youth. So many youths have absentee fathers, absentee mothers (or both), and they need guidance and positive role models in their lives. Whenever there is an ad for “upscale” parties for “urban professionals”, the turn-out is huge. Let’s see those same people turn-out for our youth in 2006.

I wrote this not to evoke anger, but to provide food for thought.

Granted, money is helpful much of the time, however it’s time for us as a community to also try to look at ways of helping our children and ourselves, instead of always pointing fingers elsewhere. I know of at least two great organizations that could use your time: the Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Canada (www.bbbsc.ca) and the Youth Assisting Youth

(www.yay.org). If anyone would like a comprehensive list, I would be happy to provide one, just e-mail me.

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