A panel on the consequences for youth and society exposed to daily violence hit hard on some areas that might be ineffective in helping kids to turn things around.
Patrick McCarthy, president and CEO of the Annie E. Casey Foundation said he finds institutions for juvenile delinquents wholly ineffective. Many youths come out of these programs with worse behavior than when they started, he said.
Sonja Sohn, an actress most famous for her work on The Wire, also started the ReWired for Change outreach program to rehabilitate at-risk youth involved in criminal activity. She told her very personal story of abuse.
Sohn’s mother was abused by her father — once Sohn witnessed her father put her mother’s head on a chopping block in their kitchen and threaten her with a knife. She said she had daydreams about killing her father, and at one time considered running away at the age of 10 to be a prostitute in New York.
But Sohn’s story is one of rehabilitation. She said her family has learned to heal from the past abuse, and her father has gotten help.
Also on the panel was student Nigel Cox, chair of the national youth board of Students Against Violence Everywhere. Cox, who is a senior in high school in North Carolina, said he tries to preach the word nonviolence.
We’ve heard from some victims of sexual and physical abuse and while their stories are hard to hear, they are important. Both women who spoke mentioned that by speaking out they are breaking the cycle of violence, which is exactly what the task force is hoping to do.
Rosa Almond, who was physically abused by her husband (and sexually abused by her grandfather at the age of 7), finally had the courage to leave and press charges when her husband beat her in front of her children.
Jacquelynn Kuhn was abused by a neighbor when she was just five years old. Kuhn explained that the teenager who molested her was a master manipulator, and told her that if she told on him, he would do worse things to her brother and sister. Kuhn only told her parents about the abuse as an adult, after she divorced an abusive husband.
Earl El-Amin, resident imam of the Muslim Community Cultural Center of Baltimore spoke about the rise of community violence in town. He attributes a lot of the problems to what he calls the “absent daddy club.” El-Amin says “If you don’t see a man, you can’t be a man.”
Frightening stat: Baltimore children are 8 times as likely to die from homicide than other children in the country.
Joe Torre just opened up to the group about his experiences as a child with abuse. He never was personally abused, but he watched his mom get abused by his father, who was a police officer. Torre said he kept it to himself because he was embarrassed by it and thought he was the only one experiencing it. Now, Torre says children need to know that violence should not be a secret.
There are some very interesting voices on the task force, including Sarah Deer, an assistant professor at the William Mitchell College of Law, who is focused on violence on Indian Reservations. According to Deer, reservations have the highest rate of violent crime in the nation.
Then there’s The Rev. Gregory Boyle, who runs Homeboy Industries in L.A., helping gang members from rival gangs to work side by side. Another interesting stat: his group offers 10,000 laser tattoo removals to gang members each year.
Attorney General Eric Holder has called the work of protecting children from violence “a priority” for his department, which has lots of other weighty issues on its plate.
Other big names on the roster for today are Joe Torre, co-chair of the Safe at Home Foundation. The foundation’s Margaret’s Place is a tribute to Torre’s mother, which provides children with a safe place to talk to each other and counselors trained in domestic violence intervention.
The Wire’s Sonja Sohn (who played Detective Kima Greggs) will also be speaking today.