Neighborhood Service Organization youth encourage Detroiters to celebrate New Year with hugs NOT bullets

YIP Peer Educator DeQuan O'Neal lost two cousins to gun violence

The holidays are for celebration. Some gather with family and friends, others do this or that, and some take out a loaded gun, go outside and fire multiple rounds of ammunition into the air. Clearly, the latter is infinitely more dangerous than the others. Neighborhood Services Organization’s (NSO) Youth Initiatives Project (YIP) is tackling the potentially deadly reveling practice, encouraging hugs, not bullets this holiday season.

Detroit Police Chief Craig and DeQuan O'Neal answer questions at press conference

Detroit Police Chief Craig and DeQuan O’Neal answer questions at press conference

Although the issue affects everyone, these young people in YIP from Osborn, Central, Cody and Denby high schools are the ones affecting solutions and hoping to change adult behaviors. During a recent news conference to kick off the 10th annual Hugs, not Bullets campaign, NSO President and CEO Sheilah Clay shared some startling statistics … “Every half an hour, a child is killed in the U.S. by gun violence.”

A 2009 Michigan youth risk behavior survey found 84 percent of homicide victims killed with firearms in 2005 were between 15 and 19 years old.

Detroit City Councilman James Tate remembers hearing gunfire during the holidays as a child. “I have vivid memories at nine years old of having to hit the floor at midnight on New Year’s Eve as I would hear gun shots in my neighborhood,” he said. “That was decades ago for me, but some are still with this unfortunate tradition. This really has to stop.”

NSO Peer Educator Dominique Jordan passionately declared, “I’m tired of having to drop to the floor every New Year’s Eve night.”

Several of the dais dignitaries and students reiterated an all-too-common phrase, “What goes up, must come down,” speaking of the dangerous fallout from errant gunfire. Although progress is being made, the Hugs, not Bullets effort is still needed.

Detroit Police Chief James Craig shared that violent crimes in the city are down nearly 14 percent and that 77 fewer people were victims of gun crimes last year. “We have too many shootings, too many murders. We are going to drive this rate down,” he told the crowd.

Councilman Tate presents Council Resolution to Frank McGhee of NSO

Councilman Tate presents Council Resolution to Frank McGhee of NSO

Chief Craig, who has been very busy, was coaxed to attend the meeting by one of the YIP students DeQuan O’Neal. He called the chief directly and told him, “It’s important that you’re here for our news conference.” The charismatic 18-year old Osborn student is also a peer educator for YIP and received a “Champions of Change” award from President Obama at the White House last year.

“It’s important that the streets are safe for everyone,” he said. O’Neal, lost two cousins to violence last year. He and several of the other 50 students in YIP are focusing on their education and involvement in the community. Each of them is passionate about this issue and the betterment of Detroit as a whole.

Wayne County Executive and former county sheriff Bob Ficano talked about the importance of securing weapons that are in homes. “When we ask young people to not play with guns that are in these homes, we are asking children to be more adult than the adults are,” he said. In addition to not firing the guns in celebration, he stressed the importance of having trigger locks on them as well.

YIP was founded in 1999, designed to encourage youth activism and peer-to-peer collaboration to improve the capacity of neighborhood and community organizations, NSO’s YIP training gives youth leaders the skills to plan and organize activities promoting well being and success. YIP members plan and organize activities that promote non-violence and substance abuse prevention in metro Detroit.

For more information on Hugs, not Bullets or other NSO programs, visit their website.

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