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Northeastern hosts panel on reducing youth violence

Community leaders convened at Northeastern University on Thursday afternoon for a panel discussion on reducing youth violence through collaboration between Boston police, city officials, and sport-based youth development organizations.

The speakers comprised officials from the Boston Police Department and the Boston Public Health Commission, including BPD Superintendent in Chief William Gross. Attendees included representatives of more than a dozen SBYD organizations, including Playworks, which aims to use recess to “unlock kids’ superpowers,” and SquashBusters, an after-school urban youth development program at Northeastern.

The two-hour event, moderated by Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson, marked the start of the Center for the Study of Sport in Society’s 2014-2015 series on the role of SBYD organizations in addressing the root causes of youth violence in Boston. Over the past few years, the Northeastern-based center has found that these organizations are uniquely positioned to address youth violence through their educational programing and life skill development.

Panelist Courtney Mark Grey, the director of trauma response and recovery at the BPHC, noted that exercising helps youth cope with being exposed to violence. “Playing sports helps people recover from violent incidents,” said Grey, who added that noncompetitive play fosters a feeling of inclusion among all participants regardless of their skill level.

BPD Community Service Officer Jose Ruiz echoed Grey’s comments, noting that he once advised some young athletes to attend their baseball game immediately after they had witnessed a shooting. “Going to the baseball diamond was their outlet,” said Ruiz, who combines his interest in community development with athletics through volunteer positions with programs like Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities and The BASE. “If they were kept at home all they’d be thinking about was that traumatic situation.”

In the Q-and-A, Ali Fuller, the founder and executive director of Level Ground Mixed Martial Arts, noted that her program aims to serve young men and women who have been exposed to a disproportionate level of violence and poverty. She and her staff, she explained, work hard to foster a culture of respect, discipline, and self-control—three values that have led to positive outcomes for her pupils. “My students feel as if they’re part of a family,” she told the panelists. “They have a place they can come to and call home.”

The biggest takeaway from the discussion was the importance of collaborating to reduce youth violence. “We have to work together to address this problem,” said Gross, who has been awarded numerous awards for bravery, meritorious service, and community partnership. “I am confident we’ll get the job done. We’re going to get results.”

“The cavalry is not coming,” Jackson added. “Every leader we need is in this room, this community, this city.”

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