This past Wednesday, December 5, over 150 stakeholders met on the 36th floor of the State Street Financial Center with one common goal: preventing youth violence in Boston.
It was the fourth annual Youth Violence Prevention Funder Symposium that brought private and public funders, content experts, program officers, and community leaders alike to join together to further understand the problems that surround youth violence and invest in the proven best pathways to prevention. Hosted by the State Street Foundation, the Symposium is an annual event of the Youth Violence Prevention (YVP) Funder Learning Collaborative that takes a public health approach to solving youth violence; focusing initially on aligning adequate funding to support five communities along the Blue Hill Avenue Corridor: South End/Lower Roxbury, Dudley Square, Grove Hall, Bowdoin/Geneva, and Morton/Norfolk.
The mission is to bring together private and public sector funders, experts, and stakeholders to learn, share, and act to better coordinate funding to preventing youth violence. Both the Collaborative and Root Cause recognize that in order to create optimum social impact, it takes a vast community of stakeholders from both the public and private sectors, to work together sharing ideas, collecting data, and aligning funding to close the gaps. For the past two years, the State Street Foundation has engaged the services of Root Cause to provide the Collaborative with research and analysis, facilitation and strategic support, and overall project management.
This year’s Symposium event featured the first YVP Funder Café, which included four in-focus sessions designed to foster funder discussion surrounding “what works” to prevent youth violence. Each session was led by Collaborative content experts alongside the leaders of youth-serving programs, and private and public funders were invited to learn more in depth about the presented funder tool, ask questions, and join group discussion with the hope of further guiding their future investing. The four sessions from this year’s YVP Funder Café included: Investing in Meaningful Employment Opportunities, Investing in a Positive Youth Development Approach, Investing in Long-Lasting Relationships, and Investing in Referrals to a Full Range of Social and Emotional Services.
Prior to the YVP Funder Café, the 2012 YVP Funder Symposium’s general program included various presentations from fellow funders committed to preventing youth violence and remarks by State Street’s George Russell and Alison Quirk, Barbara Ferrer of the Boston Public Health Commission, Jude Goldman of the Lenny Zakim Fund, and Robert Lewis, Jr. of the Boston Foundation. The event program also integrated discussion from a program panel composed of six Boston-based youth-serving programs recognized for their leading efforts in sustaining youth violence. It was then that the various funders in the room were granted the opportunity to hear exclusively from the types of, if not the actual programs, that they fund, and gain further knowledge for future funding.
Another portion of the general program included a community dialogue session, which featured the personal story of Casimiro Cabral, a Dorchester native who grew up in a neighborhood surrounded by violence, yet now, at 22, manages investments at State Street Corporation. Casimiro depicted how just a few years ago, before he became involved with the Dorchester Youth Collaborative, he had dropped out of high school and was unemployed. He gave credit to the positive youth development and long-term mentoring programs he participated in as what pushed him to reach his full potential, and he went on to urge the various funders in the room to continue to fund such programs since they are, in fact, working. Cabral described how he was encouraged to gain his GED, which he did with academic achievement, how he was provided with meaningful employment opportunities and career training, and how he received constant moral support, every step of the way.
Speaking alongside Casimiro during this session of the Symposium was his personal mentor and GED teacher, Kamua Parker; Year Up advisor, Francis Pina; fellow Dorchester Youth Collaborative student, Anthony Nguyen; as well as John D. O’Bryant School of Mathematics and Science’s Lauren McDade, and Boston Police Department’s Superintendent William Gross. Each of them served to further shed light on Casimiro’s story, and the session concluded with a surprise breakout dance by Casimiro and Anthony, showcasing their talents. In all, the community dialogue session of this year’s Symposium served to inspire and further drive the funders and content experts in the room to continue on their collaborative mission to further prevent youth violence in Boston’s city.
And Casimiro was not the only Boston-youth story heard at the Symposium; Jermaine Taylor and Joe Sierra of InnerCity Weightlifting shared their stories, as did Adrien Aime of the Boston Private Industry Council (PIC).
Jermaine Taylor described how he grew up under similar circumstances as Casimiro, in a neighborhood nearby that also suffered from the issue of violence. Jermaine went on to praise Casimiro, adding his admiration toward him since he personally understands the challenges faced by youth growing up around violence, and commended him for sharing his story and serving to inspire others. He then personally thanked his own mentors and trainers from InnerCity Weightlifting for helping to keep him in the gym and off the streets where he could possibly end up in trouble like many of his fellow peers.
Joe Sierra explained how he had fallen victim to violence, joining a gang and dealing drugs, which led to his arrest and incarceration. Yet now, Sierra described, his life has come full circle thanks to the various programs that opened their doors to him following his release, granting him the opportunities he needed to become a better man. Sierra went on to proclaim how he now looks to spread word of how successful these programs were for him and how successful they can be for other at-risk youth, by telling them that all you need to do is meet these programs halfway, and they will change your life.
Adrien Aime’s story was a little different, in that he described how he was fortunate enough to know not to get involved with the violence occurring on his local streets, but due to the unfortunate circumstances of being kicked out of his home and falling behind in school, he felt he was left with no alternatives. Thankfully, Aime was able to seek the refuge and opportunities he needed to rise above the path to crime through Boston PIC’s program with the Burke School, which Aime was attending. There, Adrien received the incentives he needed to stay in school and graduate, and was placed in employment opportunities that helped to keep him on the right track. Aime closed with how he now is inspired to attend college, and thanked the PIC for all they had done for him and his future.
In my opinion, hearing the personal stories from these three Boston youth was not only inspiring and motivating for all the stakeholders in attendance, but these stories also seamlessly presented the outcome that the Youth Violence Prevention Funder Collaborative is working so hard to achieve: provide youth with the opportunities they need to succeed in Boston.