Originally posted to www.transitionpgh.org on March 15, 2012 @ 4:00PM
I grew up in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, I was an avid sportsman and my family owned guns. We used to go to the local gun range for skeet and target practice. I took the hunters safety course when I was sixteen and know I could safely handle a gun if need be. I do not personally own one or have any intention of ever owning one, but it is nice to know that if it came down to it I could hold my own.
I am sitting here writing and for the 4th time this week I heard a barage of gunfire followed with sirens. Guns do not scare me, people that do not realize the consequences of taking a life scare me… People that do not value their own life or anyone elses for that matter scare me… Teens that think it is not safe to walk the streets without a gun scare me… Sadly sometimes I think they are right… I grew up around guns and was taught responsible and safe use… I was taught to keep the safety on, never point it at a human and never put your finger on the trigger unless you are ready to fire. Basically you do not point a gun at something unless you are ready to end it’s life. I think it would be safe to say that 50% of the gunshots I hear are kids who have found or bought a gun and are testing it in an alley…After all you would’nt catch a soldier going into battle without making sure his weapon fires first, right?
All neighborhoods and communities are in a constant state of transition, not just Wilkinsburg… We have a lot of apartments that have a high turn over rate. Things will be quiet one month and the the next month it will be hell on earth. To quote a close friend who has been shot in Wilkinsburg more than once “This winter has been way to quiet, when it gets warm there will be war in the streets.”
Two nights ago between 9:30 and 11:00pm there was an armed robbery on my street, 20 minutes later there was a shooting on one side of the borough and then 10 minutes later there was another shooting in the playground of the local elementary school… We heard the shots and immediately fealt something different in the air. You know how you can sometimes feel when something bad happens… This was one of those times, the air smelled funny and the hair on my body was standing on end… We knew this one was going to land close to home… We soon heard people screaming in the street and immediately knew this was bad.
It turns out that we did know the person (I cannot and will not disclose the name of this person). The initial reports that we got from the scanner were that 2 people were shot, one in the head and one in the leg. When they said the location of the shooting we knew who it was and believe me it was friends that we consider family. It was like my little brother had just been shot, the only info we had was that he was alive and talking. This was the fifth person that we personally knew from Wilkinsburg that had been shot. Given the fact that I went 28 years without knowing anyone who had been shot and this was the fifth person in 2 years that we personally knew, it goes to show you how difficult it can be to insert yourself into a families life that has always lived like this.
My biggest fear is that I am going to be sitting on someones porch and get caught up in crossfire. it is the sad reality of living in a community like Wilkinsburg. Even though it may scare the hell out of you and I, it has an opposite effect on the youth in the area… You would think that getting shot would be a huge wake up call but it is far from the life changing event it would be for most of the population. They idolize gangsters and the thug lifestyle and street-cred is everything in this world. Getting shot only makes you cooler, it is like the line between being a poser and being the real deal.
My question is how do you reverse the effect of living under the gun your entire life. Soldiers coming back from war say that being shot at is the ultimate high and after living through it everyday civilian life is never the same. It is kind of the same way for the youth in Wilkinsburg. They talk about it like it is just an everyday part of life. How do you convince a 10 year old not to do what his older brothers and friends are doing.
The sad fact is that at school, church and every youth program these kids hear why they need to stay off the streets and keep off drugs. With out these programs things would be much worse, they save millions of lives a year im sure. So many people think that the only way to be successful is to graduate from high school and get a college degree. Sadly this is not an option for many of the youth I come in contact with on a daily basis. I see my role as a mentor to show the kids that are a part of my life how to survive without the things that might not be possible to accomplish in there lives. Believe me I think all kids should graduate from high school and go on to further there education, but I did not go to college and I have a pretty good idea what it takes to survive in this world with very little.
Shit happens around here, kids get in trouble and serve jail time effectively ending there education, girls get pregnant and have to raise a child, sometimes school is just not a priority for the parents and eventually the kids drop out. My job as a mentor often involves teaching life skills to kids that will not otherwise get taught to them. Sometimes it is as simple as teaching basic construction skills or as detailed as organic farming so they will atleast be able to feed their families someday, every kids abilities are different. I want to show them that no matter what decisions they make in there life with a little work anything is possible. So many of these kids have been shit on there entire lives that they start believing they are worthless yet every single one of these kids is amazing at something. Sometimes all they need is to hear it.
If you have a problem child in your neighborhood please do not scold them, instead try to control their energy through projects. I had a kid that liked to dig holes, and I mean anywhere… Instead of yelling at him I gave him a shovel and told him where to dig the holes and tought him to fill them with plants. It is amazing how he wanted to plant anything he could get his hands on. Made my life a little easier but more important is the fact that I may have planted a seed in this kids life that could be the hobby that keeps him from picking up a gun.
Saddly a lot of these kids have every reason in the world to carry a gun, as long as there is the fear that other people have guns then they will defend themselves. Imagine being at war with the next block over from YOUR house, even if you don’t hate them, they hate you, just because of the street you live on. Moving is not an option due to being poor and all it takes for you to be on someones shit list is for your FRIEND to say something and now you are a target out of association. Sometimes you do not even have to provoke an attack, it just comes down to trying to impress a friend or a girl.
All that it takes is one person to show a child a way out, insert yourself in their life and show them that they can do anything in the world. Take them someplace they would never get to go, a farm, the mountains or fishing… It does not matter if you are not a saint, anyone can make a positive impact on a childs life. Especially when your competition could take their life!
It’s a sad reality. We have the same problem here in MIlwaukee. Unfortunately, it seems to be getting worse. Times are tough, and crime is the terrible result. There is a community garden I’ve volunteered at, and I’ve seen the kids who want to help. I think if you can keep them occupied, it’s beneficial. Yet, you aren’t there all the time, you aren’t family. If their big brother is wearing nice clothes, has a Blackberry, and cash, it’s tough to win the battle. The temptation for the dollar is there. I’m hoping that having access to good food that they’ve been helped to grow will swing them to a better way. Sometimes, all you have is hope. You can do all you want, but it’s up to them to make the right choice, or what they feel is the right choice for them. All you can do is plant the seed.