A diverse crowd of concerned parents and residents from a cross section of Philadelphia gathered at the Vare Recreation Center, in South Philadelphia, to discuss possible solutions to the escalating problem of youth violence.
The event was organized by Mothers in Charge, an organization consisting of mothers who lost children in acts of violence.
According to the group’s founder, Dorothy Speight, the forum was held in an effort to engage parents in a dialogue intended to find solutions as opposed to focusing on the problem.
“We had 20 organizations there that provided resources to youth and families. I think many of the parents were frustrated but glad that they came because they were able to access information needed for their children,” said Speight.
Not only did parents and residents have an opportunity to express their concerns during the forum and suggest possible solutions to help prevent flash mob violence in the future, they also were provided with materials outlining some of the services and programs available to them.
One mother, Denea Whitest, who joined Mothers in Charge after losing two of her children to a train accident in 2004, is both a single mother of three, a foster parent and an advocate for children and youth suffering emotional and behavioral health challenges.
After the death of her two children, Whitest began to notice behavioral problems in her other children.
“I knew something was wrong and I went to seek services for them,” said Whitest, who was turned away without help several times and told that there was no help for her children unless they violated the law.
“There are likely other parents whose children are out there who see the problems and seek intervention but the programs aren’t made available to them,” explained Whitest.
Whitest began a personal campaign to find help for her children and in the process discovered a wealth of programs and services she would otherwise not have known existed. This is her concern for those attending the Mothers in Charge Forum.
Whitest was pleased that the forum offered knowledge about many public and private resources for parents with concerns about their youth, but she still believed that the forum — like other responses to the flash mob crisis — leaned too heavily on punishment.
“What I heard was a lot of what we can do to punish but what I wanted to hear more of was what solutions are out there for them. We all really know what to do and what not to do — but teach me how to do it,” said Whitest who suggested another forum be held that would outline a list of strategies and provide more extensive lists of services and programs parents can take advantage of to help their children.
Jordan Harris, executive director of the city’s Youth Commission, saw the forum as a sign of hope.
“We saw the pain but we also saw the promise of doing something about the problem,” said Harris. “One of the things I heard a lot from the community was that they needed someone for their children to look up to, mentor them.”
Harris agrees with others who did not believe that punishment for offending youth was sufficient to eradicate the problem of juvenile delinquency. A combination of parent, community and government working together would, said Harris, be needed for sustained change to occur.
“The only way we are going to get out of this problem is to expose our youth to more than what they are seeing today. When they see more they will want to do more,” said Harris.