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Kalamazoo youth present ideas for ending gun violence

Siblings Rider and Genesis Griffin look over some of the business cards they received after presenting their ideas to civic leaders in Kalamazoo. Rider is wearing a black long sleeved Playboy t-shirt and Genesis wears a plain short sleeved black t-shirt.  She has long, straight platinum blonde hair and Rider has dark short hair and sunglasses on.
Leona Larson
Small group facilitators, siblings Rider and Genesis Griffin, look over business cards from civic leaders at the Douglass Community Association, Friday, March 15.

Community organizers and elected officials heard practical ideas to reduce shootings at an event Friday.

In a presentation at the Douglass Community Association, high school and college students presented a range of ideas for fighting gun violence. It was an opportunity for young adults to tell the people in power what they think should be done about the problem.

Members of the audience included Kalamazoo Mayor David Anderson, Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety Chief David Boysen, State Senator Sean McCann, State Representative Christine Morse, and other elected officials and community leaders.

Maya Davis is the director of the Forever 22 Naya J. Reynolds Foundation. The organization is named for Davis’ daughter, a Western Michigan University student who died in a 2022 shooting when she was 22.

Davis helped organize this event and an earlier one, the Emerging Leaders Summit to End Gun Violence, that brought young people together in February to strategize. Davis said Friday’s presentation to the community was also the first time event organizers heard from the students.

“I think the ideas that they came up with are amazing. They are things that are tangible. You know, things that can, that is not impossible to do,” Davis said.

A crowded conference room, full of elected officials and community leaders at the Douglass Community Association, watches students present solutions for gun violence.  A table with food can be seen in the lower left corner of the frame.
Leona Larson
Youth leaders present ideas to address gun violence at the Douglass Center Association on March 15.

Speaking after the event, Davis said she was pleased with the support students received from officials.

“What I was so impressed about is the community leaders and the different organizations that, after the event was over, they wanted to give out their cards. And they were like, “Hey, I have this idea, hey, I have this grant money.’ So, it's amazing. It's amazing to see.”

Western Michigan University junior Genesis Griffin was one of the participants. She led a small group that focused on the role of social media. Members suggested creating either an internship or part-time job for a high school or college student as a paid social media “influencer.” The goal would be to combat gun violence online and advocate for prevention by reaching young people where they are — on social media.

By the end of the presentation, Griffin had received several business cards from people interested in helping. She said she’d already scheduled several meetings for the coming week with organizations wanting to discuss the idea further.

“Urban Alliance, the police chief, United Way, Western Michigan University, several other partners that would like to either house the internship or the paid role,” Griffin said.

The students identified four core areas to focus on: community, home, social media and schools. Other proposals included creating a youth-led committee to work with the city to curtail gun violence and disseminate information to neighborhoods; collaborating with school counselors to support students in a mental health crisis; and a poster program to raise awareness in schools.

Davis said the organizers will continue to help facilitate one-on-one meetings between youth leaders, officials and community agencies with the goal of turning the students' ideas into reality. She said the coalition of sponsors also plans to hold future youth summits.

Other sponsors of Friday’s community presentation and the Emerging Leaders Summit to End Gun Violence include Kalamazoo Moms Demand Action, Great Lakes PeaceJam, Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership, KYD Network, BLOCKS Club, Forever 22 Naya J Reynolds Foundation and Western Michigan University.

Disclosure: WMUK reporter Leona Larson is a former member of Kalamazoo Moms Demand Action.

Leona has worked as a journalist for most of her life - in radio, print, television and as journalism instructor. She has a background in consumer news, special projects and investigative reporting.