|Groups take a role in fighting violence
By Patrick Gerard Healy
Two stabbings in two months at T stations in Jamaica Plain are two too many, says Carlos Baez, 15.
''I'm scared to go on the train now," says Baez, a member of the teen group South Street View Finders. ''You're scared you're going to get jumped for trying to go to school. I'm not safe."
Outraged by the recent violence in the area, Baez and other members of several peer leadership groups are uniting to take a different approach to stopping the violence, participating in role-playing with the local violence-prevention group Urban Improv Theater.
Their work is intense. In one scene played out at the Agassiz Community Center, an Improv actor takes on the role of a young man bursting in on a group of his friends, frantic for backup in a fight. Playing along, one young man steps up, says he's got his friend's back. Another isn't sure and steps away. Baez takes over for this second player.
''I may be soft, but I'll be alive," Baez says, as the crowd starts to boo. Tension mounts.
A male voice from the back of the auditorium cuts through. ''For you guys it's easy to say onstage that you don't want to fight. But in life you have to show them that you're not a punk."
For the teenage members of Tree of Life, Hyde Square Task Force, English High SCORE Mediation Program, Peace Drum, and the South Street View Finders, this session May 26 is the first in a series of workshops. With a focus on trying to deescalate potentially violent situations, the youths participate in recreating situations that seemed all too familiar to their audience.
In the stand-off scene, in which the question is whether to join the fight or back off, Improv actor Kevin Smith takes hold of the situation. He explains that what the peer groups have to do, if they really want to make a difference in preventing violence, is not easy at all.
''We're asking you to set your own rules," he tells the youths.
Of course, setting your own rules is not a simple task, says scene participant Baez.''When I was up there I felt people trying to change my mind," he says. ''Other people may tell you to do something, but you just have to be strong to keep on."
Ninth-grader Ashley Cotton, 15, a youth community organizer for Hyde Square Task Force, says she believes a lot of the violence in the area is due to people who are unwilling to change the way they react to violence.
''It all depends on how you grew up and your surroundings," she says, adding that Urban Improv's interactive performance has taught her how to take a rational approach to trying to defuse violent situations.
''I learned that you should at least try to figure out the situation before you get involved and cause any problems," she says.
Eighth-grader Giovanny Tejeda, 14, who is also a South Street View Finder, says that if other people his age and younger can learn how to defuse situations, the world will be a better place.
''We want to set a better example for younger kids," he says. ''We're the new generation starting up, but it's the one after us that we're trying to make it better for."
Urban Improv director Toby Dewey says the groups that participated in the session made great strides.
''I think they're frustrated," he said. ''They're frustrated with the violence, and they're trying to find a creative way to stop it."