Youth Council swearing-in event seeks new solutions to gang violence

Makasia Purdy, 14, lost her 13-year-old friend Christopher Scott at a party in June 2021.

A few months earlier, she had lost Maliyah Godwin13, who was killed in the safety of her own apartment.

His friends were killed because of gun violence and gang activity. Purdy is now determined to make a change.

This recent increase in gang activity and gun violence prompted the Gainesville City Commission and the Cultural Arts Coalition to create a Youth Advisory Council to address gang violence targeting youth in Alachua County.

Purdy, a member of the Pace Center for Girls, was named a representative on that council along with 13 other young people representing different cities and organizations in Alachua County. This council will strive to provide insight and brainstorm solutions to the growing problems of gang violence.

The new board was sworn in Monday at the Thomas Center. About 60 parents, city and county commissioners, youth organization executives and other community leaders attended.

Purdy believes clear communication is the key to change for at-risk youth.

“I hope that me and the other board members will give them a voice,” she said.

This youth council was organized by the Executive Director of the Cultural Arts Coalition, Nkwanda Jah.

Jah, 68, was heartbroken as so many young people were lost to gang violence in the community.

“Gangs don’t ask for any applications,” Jah said. “They don’t ask for letters of recommendation. Gangs have jobs. They may not be legal jobs, but they stick to it.

Jah credits the recent community gathering on gun violence as the origin of this advice.

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“They told us that gangs are good for recruiting, gangs have jobs, gangs have camaraderie, gangs have mentors,” Jah said. “So I’m like, ‘We can do this. “”

The Cultural Arts Coalition reached out to youth groups and organizations in Alachua County, working to appoint a representative to take the lead and create solutions.

“We have to embrace them. We cannot blame the victim for their victimization,” Jah said. “We must provide opportunities for all children. We cannot abandon any of them.

An initiation ceremony was held in which all members of the Youth Council were sworn in by Eighth Judicial Circuit Judge Gloria Walker. Walker asked all youth representatives to take an oath to work together and improve the community.

She then called on the adult councilors, which included several city commissioners, Mayor Lauren Poe, Sheriff Clovis Watson Jr. and other community leaders to take a similar oath to advise and assist the young council in any way possible.

Walker shared his life story to inspire young leaders. She explained how she came from a low-income family and worked hard to overcome stereotypes, racial profiling and financial hardship to become the first woman of color in Florida’s Eighth Judicial Circuit.

“I’m so excited for all of you, because here are young people who want to better themselves and better the community,” Walker said.

County Commissioner Charles Chestnut IV also attended the event and addressed the youth council. He assured them that the elected officials are there to support them and provide them with advice as needed.

“I think the best thing we can do as a community is to involve our young people in county government, city government,” Chestnut said. “We can start governing that way to get them involved to be part of it.”

The initiation was launched by a dance performance by young students from the Ministries of Expressive Singing and Dance. The dancers ranged in age from 3 to 12, dancing to songs by Christian hip-hop artist Bizzle and pop sensation Janet Jackson.

Elois Waters, dance teacher and CEO of the dance group, choreographed the routine herself. Waters was asked to bring the dancers to perform today. She thought it would be a good opportunity for them to learn the importance of spreading love rather than hate in the community.

“We wanted to continue to promote good virtues and good idealism for children,” Waters said.

One of the dancers, Lainey, 7, was excited to dance again even though she and the rest of the group had had another recital the day before.

“I’m always happy to be here,” Lainey said. “I found it easy!”

Anthony Greene, President of the Cultural Arts Coalition and psychologist at UF’s Counseling and Wellness Center, was invited by Jah to moderate the event. As a psychologist, Greene believes young council members are more accessible to, and understand gang-affiliated youth better.

“[The council] can certainly provide alternatives,” Greene said. “For those caught up in the negativity simply because they have nothing else to do to provide an alternative.”

Contact Erina at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @ErinaAnwar_

Correction: This article has been updated to reflect the correct number of youth council members, 14. The Alligator previously reported otherwise.

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Erina Anouar

Erina is a sophomore journalism student and reports on East Gainesville for The Alligator. Originally from Dhaka, Bangladesh, Erina grew up in Fort Lauderdale and loves discovering new stories in Gainesville. When not writing, she enjoys exploring local restaurants and watching Korean dramas.