Teens fed up with violence

By ANDREA TUDHOPE

KCUR-FM

AP Member Exchange

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Now that it’s July, Wyandotte High School senior Tahj Harris said he hears gunshots every day.

“I’m used to it,” he said. “I don’t think much about it.”

For many teens in the northeastern corner of Kansas City, Kansas, violence feels normal.

Wyandotte junior Barry Anderson said he had a handful of friends growing up who were killed. Fellow junior JeKyia Hall said she was around 9 when she first saw someone shot to death. Sumner Academy sophomore Destiny Johnson recently lost her uncle to gun violence.

“We see a lot of people get shot. A lot of people see their close friends die,” Johnson said.

Kim Monroe hears about it from kids in her area all the time.

“Home situations that are just insane, violence around them,” she said.

In December, Monroe’s 15-year-old Taveon Brooks fell victim to that violence — the F.L. Schlagle sophomore was killed in a drive-by shooting just around the corner from the school.

“We are prime to lose our future in this county,” she said. “We’re killing off our youth over stupidity. I don’t know what the answer is. I know we cannot afford to let this continue.”

On the last day of school for the eighth graders at Northwest Middle School, a few dozen gathered for their weekly after-school program — last week, it was a field trip to ReachKCK, a community center on Parallel Parkway, where the kids are invited to spend their summer shooting hoops in the gym, playing electric guitars and taking pottery classes.

“It’s in your neighborhood, it’s for you. We want you to be here,” ReachKCK director Tricia Hutchison told the kids.

The visit was part of a program called ThrYve, which stands for Together Helping Reduce Youth Violence For Equity.

University of Kansas behavioral scientist Jomella Watson-Thompson is raising her kids in Kansas City, Kansas. She started ThrYve a few years ago to curb youth violence in the city.

“The goal was really to help support our young people on a more positive trajectory, and to help them to be able to see their future self,” she told KCUR-FM.

The project is funded by a $1.7 million federal grant awarded to the University of Kansas. With dozens of community partners — like ReachKCK, the police department, juvenile court, the schools and the city — the program is designed to create safe spaces, and eliminate the barriers that keep teens from succeeding.

“A lot of times we think, the youth, they don’t want to plug in. And what I find is if we give them the opportunity and we give them the support they need, they plug in pretty well,” she said.

But those barriers are very real for these kids.

County data shows that children under the age of 18 in portions of the northeastern corner of Wyandotte County make up the county’s most “vulnerable” population.