Protecting Our Youth
Surrey, Vancouver, April 16, 2010
President, Punjabi Language Education Association
For the past several years, South Asian Community Coalition Against Youth Violence (SACCAYV) has been actively engaged in preventing youth violence in our community. SACCAYV has always welcomed partnerships with other organizations with similar objectives. In this process, it has received strong support from a large number of Gurdwaras as well as a number of other community organizations. Addition of two very well respected academic institutions Langara College, Vancouver and Kwantlen Polytechnic University, Surrey, were a blessing to this group. Both of these places of higher learning have been in the forefront in addressing the issues of gangs and youth violence.
Last year, a federal agency recognized Kwantlen Polytechnic University and provided it with funding to conduct research into youth violence and gangs. The award, Community-University Research Alliance (CURA) has brought together academic experts, students and community activists to identify factors that protect our youth from gang influences and prevent them from a life of violence.
As part of this process, some of the CURA partners, including myself, had an opportunity to attend a very well organized conference in Toronto. Headlined Canada-U.S. Gang Summit, this conference was held over three days from March 24 to 26 in downtown Toronto. The main objective of the Summit was to bring to-gether some of North Americas top gang experts and former gang leaders. They were invited to share their experiences and knowledge with more than 500 attendees at the conference. The underlying theme was best practices in street gang prevention, reduction, intervention and reintegration.
Keynote speaker, Father Gregory Boyle delivered a very inspirational address. Father Boyle is the founder and Executive Director of Homeboy Industries. Located in downtown Los Angeles, Homeboy Industries is recognized as the largest gang intervention program in the U.S. and has become a national model. Father Boyle stated that kinship is extremely important in dealing with people. He emphasized that mutual trust; unconditional acceptance and love are the key ingredients in turning peoples lives around.
Throughout the conference, speakers emphasized that gangs are the result of despair, neglect and helplessness. A number of former gang members/leaders shared their experiences with the audience. The underlying theme throughout was that the pathway to gangs is not linear. It is an evolutionary process. Feelings of insecurity, lust for power, money and drugs were usually the starting points leading to street gangs, organized crime and so on.
Most of the resource people stressed that gangs are not one city or one countrys problem. They should be everybodys concern. It was mentioned that in Los Angeles alone there are 1100 gangs and 86,000 gang members. Similarly, Toronto is reported to have more than 130 gangs. In North America, there are more than one million gang members. This is a very serious issue that requires innovative and collaborative approach. Most speakers were of the opinion that demonization and /or glamorization of gangs /gang members makes them more attractive to vulnerable and disaffiliated youth.
Prevention is considered to be the most important step in this process. For this, parents /caregivers have a crucial role to play. Self-esteem, family dynamics and peers make a big difference in shaping a young persons life. Everyone longs for a sense of belonging. If a youth cant have it at home he/she will try to get it somewhere else. That makes them an easy target for a dangerous and destructive lifestyle. In this context, Maslowes hierarchy makes perfect sense. In order to keep our young people on the right track, other than meeting their physiological needs we must also provide them with a safe environment. Furthermore, our youth must also have a sense of belonging and healthy self- esteem. Only then they will have the self-actualization of becoming productive and proud citizens. From this perspective this conference was a great success.
(Balwant Sanghera is a retired School Psychologist and Community Activist. He is chairperson of the South Asian Community Coalition Against Youth Violence)