Gang and street violence has a crippling effect on youth in many communities. Youth in some neighborhoods experience psychological trauma similar to that suffered by those in war-stricken countries. Other youth drop out of school, become truant and fail to seek employment due to their fear of violent acts.
Dr. Michael Kirby states, "Gangs are committing more violent crimes, inflicting more serious injuries, and using more lethal weapons than ever before." Violent acts upon youth are not limited to those committed by gang members. Evidence suggests that young people from diverse communities and backgrounds are resolving their conflicts through the use of force. Many of these physical confrontations involve weapons. Consider the following statistics:
The shadow of violence can have lasting societal effects, compromising the futures of our nation's young people. Many have learned maladaptive and avoidance responses to perceived threats. Community-wide and societal change can be achieved if young people are taught constructive ways to respond to conflict. Responding to the Need
- Youth are nearly three times more likely than adults to be victims of violent crime.
- A generation ago, fewer than half our cities reported gang activity. Now 95 percent of our largest cities and 88 percent of smaller cities suffer gang-related crime. Cities with an emerging gang problem report that up to 90 percent of the gang members are juveniles.
- About one in seven juvenile arrests in 1995 was for a crime involving violence or the threat of violence.
- Half of high school students who carried a weapon took that weapon to school.
- Fear of school-related violence kept five percent of high school youth home at least once in the past month.
Over the past few years, many prevention programs have been developed to provide youth with the skills needed to resolve conflict. Many of these programs have failed because they have focused on only one aspect of the violence issue. A successful program requires a more comprehensive approach. It should:
- Provide young people with an awareness of gangs and negative conflict.
- Involve parents, peers and community representatives.
- Help young people master resistance skills needed to avoid and resolve conflict.
- Provide an opportunity for young people who have mastered these skills to positively influence others.
Boys & Girls Clubs of America's Street SMART program utilizes this approach.
Street SMART is a four-module curriculum which provides youth ages 11-13 with an awareness of gangs and violence, the skills needed to resist gangs and negative conflict and the tools needed to become positive peer leaders in their communities.
Module 1: Gang Awareness and Resistance: This nine-session component focuses on developing an awareness of gangs, their allure and recruitment strategies, the negative impact of gangs, the consequences of gang involvement and resistance and survival skills.
Module 2: Conflict Resolution: This nine-session component creates an awareness of conflict and its causes and effects. It also provides young people with the skills and tools needed to effectively resolve and resist negative conflict.
Module 3: Positive Peer Helpers: This eight-session component helps participants develop good decision-making skills, learn how to communicate effectively and influence others. They also learn how to accept differences, enhance leadership skills and gain an understanding of service-learning principles.
Module 4: Valuing Differences. This module is new and features nine fun, interactive lessons to build members' skills for recognizing and respecting their own cultural identities and those of others.
Each of the Street SMART modules utilize peers, parents and community representatives to supplement and enhance learning and skills mastery. At the conclusion of each module, participants organize a community event to help others in their Clubs and community become more aware of gangs and violence and how to reduce their prevalence in their neighborhoods. Taken individually, each module will make a positive impact on the lives of young adolescents. When the modules are conducted in succession with community events implemented by Street SMART participants, the program can have a positive impact on an entire community.
How to get involved? If you want to enroll your child in the Boys & Girls Club of Elgin and expose them to Street Smart programming and other gang prevention activities, please contact us at 847-608-5017. If you want more information about gangs, try pointing your browser to the following website link sponsored by the National Foundation for Abused and Neglected Children: http://www.gangfreekids.org/index.html