By Naomi Yakawich
Youth from the Cross-Community Engagement (CCE) program in Jersey City joined nearly 100 people to rally in support of stopping a recent rise in violent attacks in the U.S. city. The vigil, held on April 4, was assembled in the wake of an especially devastating week in which eight people were shot, including a child who was only 13 years old.
“This isn’t about politics, this is about saving the community.”
Youth who have been engaged in CCE over the course of the last six months elected violence in their city as the target issue for the third and final phase of the program and have been conducting joint-community efforts to address the problem in Jersey City.
Now entering its third phase, the pilot program for CCE in Jersey City, which was named the most diverse city in the United States as of 2017, engages at-risk middle and high school age youth from two ethnic groups to participate in a series of workshops, field trips and activities designed to build cross-cultural relationships. This unique program, commenced in July of 2016, utilizes leaders of faith, government and nonprofit to mentor 30 Latino and African American youth to identify and impact identity-based attitudes and behaviors.
Among the CCE youth was Denise, who voiced her condolences and encouragement to the community at the vigil. “People should be able to walk or drive places safely; to get home safely, without being shot, or murdered or hurt,” the young middle school student said, “We should rise up today. It begins with us.”
A stark contrast to the tension between law enforcement and citizens prevalent in recent years within the United States, one of CCE’s lead partners, Detective Doris Johnson, has developed a strong relationship with the youth as a mentor and role model, displaying the power of dialogue and a vision based on common values. Detective Johnson commended the young leaders and the gathering saying, “This isn’t about politics, this is about saving the community.”
By addressing the source of identity-based conflict in their communities, participants in CCE are demonstrating a proactive approach in bridging communication across barriers of race, religion and social standing in their community.
CCE completed their first phase in November of 2016, culminating in the introduction of the two separate ethnic groups to each other. Since then, the youth have continued their series of contact meetings and are now spreading the message of the power of cross-community engagement in their community through their own “Stop Violence in Jersey City Campaign,” which launched on April 14. CCE youth will visit schools, local police departments and City Hall to promote their campaign.