NEW ORLEANS — Mental health experts told us in our Wounded City special report recently that children need to belong.
Being part of a family, group, school, or sports team, with caring adults are crucial for emotional well-being, and crime prevention.
Today teens expressed that same need at today's forum at Dillard.
High school athletes didn't know that Saints linebacker Demario Davis was part of the panel on ending violence.
“He could pass it on to us. So, I'm excited to hear from him,” said Helen Cox senior Jeremiah Hall, who is on the track and football teams.
“I want to hear what he have to say, and what can he like, what knowledge he can give us,” said Marlin Turner a senior who plays football at Helen Cox.
But the students realized this was a serious discussion on gun violence.
“Robert said earlier that somebody has handed young men a gun, and said this will make you feel safe. That is a lie. Ultimately, there's only two things that are going to make you feel safe. Number one: relationship with God is going to make you feel safe. And number two: community,” said Saints player Demario Davis.
“My brother was murdered. I went to prison. My cousin got shot and now he's in a wheelchair. So, those are those generations that are affected right now. I have a nine-year-old son, and unless I do something different, he's going to be next,” said Patrick Young, Director of Gun Violence Prevention for the City of New Orleans and a Leaders of Color, fellow.
“We know that where children are in or around the third grade is an indicator for their future. Around 60 percent of the third graders in Louisiana can't read. That indicates what their future will be,” said Kristen Rome, Co-Executive Director of Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights.
The New Orleans Business Alliance says it wants to be part of the solution, and provide resources to create opportunities for the young to show them the long game in life.
“To give them the fuel to create the strategies that will take these kids and give them the opportunities to see what the long game is in our capitalistic society, not the short game,” said Norman Barnum, President and CEO of The New Orleans Business Alliance.
Their coaches and athletic directors hear about the stress crime causes.
“They express that things are just changing so fast and that they don't recognize what these kids are going through, and how they developed,” said Nathan Cochran, Executive Director of Athletics and Recreation at Xavier University.
Some say belonging to sports makes a difference.
“I try to like keep my head out of that, you know, just focus on like graduating, going to school, making colleges, being able to make it out, and have a family of my own,” Hall said.
Others offered solutions and reasons.
“I feel like mental health is very important, and that's where we see a lot of disconnect from younger children. So, it starts at home to me,” said Dillard senior and cheerleader, Kailynn Hart.
“I feel like they don't have a support system. They don't have nobody that's really talking to them, asking them what's going on through your head day to day,” said Dillard senior and cheerleader, Alexandria Gibbs.
The teens not only talked about the stress of living with crime around them but how some have become numb to the pain because it happens so often.
Groups involved in the forum: New Orleans Saints, Players Coalition, The HOPE Initiative, New Orleans Business Alliance (NOLA BA), Greater New Orleans, Inc. (GNO, Inc.), Dillard University, and Dillard University Center for Racial Justice.
To learn more about the partner organizations, visit Players Coalition at https://players-coalition.org/; The HOPE Initiative at https://the-hope-initiative.org/beyond-change/; New Orleans Business Alliance at www.nolaba.org; Greater New Orleans, Inc. (GNO, Inc.) at www.gnoinc.org; Dillard University at www.dillard.edu; and Dillard University Center for Racial Justice at https://www.dillard.edu/racialjustice/.