As our nation continues to debate how to address the frequency – and lethality – of violence, and as good people ask “What can be done?” here in Hillsborough County we have our own questions to answer about how to prevent violence and make our neighborhoods safer.
CDC of Tampa is leading the charge in preventing violence and bringing communities together as the lead agency for Safe & Sound Hillsborough. As a community quarterback, we have launched several initiatives designed to address factors that contribute to community violence.
This summer, in partnership with the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) and Children’s Board of Hillsborough County, we provided funding to support quality summer programs throughout Hillsborough County, specifically enrolling youth that would not normally be in summer programming due to barriers such as transportation or family income. Through this effort, more than 1,400 kids have a safe environment, healthy meals, and education to help reduce the reading gap that occurs during the summer months.
We released funding for community-led projects in East Tampa, the University Area, Plant City and South County. One of those projects led to the birth of theEast Tampa Youth Leadership Council, a group of middle and high school students focused on improving their neighborhoods and bringing people together. On July 30th, they will be holding their first event at Cyrus Greene Community Center from Noon to 4:00 p.m. They will begin with a Unity March in East Tampa, focusing on Law Enforcement AND Community, working together for a better tomorrow. We are pleading to the community to support our youth in this endeavor.
We know that in order for our youth to have a bright future we must ALL come together to find solutions to the problems plaguing our communities. It begins with a conversation. It continues with LISTENING to one another…not to respond, but to understand. And focusing on solutions rather than pointing fingers and placing blame. Our initiative, “Hillsborough Speaks”, will address how both community and law enforcement can participate in the healing process. We will facilitate the discussion by not putting law enforcement and residents on opposite sides of the table, but amongst one another, sitting side-by-side, listening and working together to provide solutions that benefit all.
I am reminded of a story told by the Reverend Patrick O’Neill, minister of the First Unitarian Congregational Society of Brooklyn, New York regarding the Masai tribe:
Among the most accomplished and fabled tribes of Africa, no tribe was considered to have warriors more fearsome or more intelligent than the mighty Masai. It is perhaps surprising, then, to learn the traditional greeting that passed between Masai warriors: “Kasserian Ingera,” one would always say to another. It means, “And how are the children?”It is still the traditional greeting among the Masai, acknowledging the high value that the Masai always place on their children’s well-being. Even warriors with no children of their own would always give the traditional answer, “All the children are well.” Meaning, of course, that peace and safety prevail, that the priorities of protecting the young, the powerless, are in place. That Masai society has not forgotten its reason for being, its proper functions and responsibilities. “All the children are well” means that life is good. It means that the daily struggles for existence do not preclude proper caring for their young.
This story represents our vision of working together to build strong families, safe schools and healthy neighborhoods, all in the effort to help our youth feel that tomorrow is possible. We must band together to address mental health, substance abuse, bullying, neighborhood cohesion, out-of-school time for youth, workforce opportunities for residents, and accessibility of services for those most vulnerable.
It is our hope that as we continue our work and all commit to working together,when we are asked the question, “And how are the children?”, Residents, Law Enforcement, Parents, Business Owners, Faith Leaders, ALL OF US, can answer, “All the children are safe and well”.