In Recognition of National Children’s Awareness Month

By: Malik Worthy*

The month of June is recognized as Children’s Awareness Month. Sponsored by the United States Department of Health and Human Services, Children’s Awareness Month is trying to get people to make a safe environment for youth and gives us an opportunity to reflect on the vulnerability of children exposed to violence.

There are many forms of violence from gun violence, physical violence such as sexual assault or battery, and more. Violence is a form of anger that leads to aggression. Violence has many causes, including frustration, exposure to violent media, violence in the home or neighborhood or a perception that another person’s actions toward you are aggressive, even when they’re not. While violence affects us broadly, it should be stated that men become crime victims more often than women, African Americans experience more crime than other racial groups, and unfortunately, adolescents are most likely to be victimized.

Violence impacts children differently than adults due to their developmental differences. In 2014, nearly two-fifths of children ages 17 and younger reported being a witness to violence in their lifetimes. An experience of violence can lead to lasting physical, mental, and emotional harm, whether the child is a direct victim or a witness. Children who experience violence are more than likely going to have many effects, such as behavior problems, depression, anxiety, and other problems throughout life.

Most children experience violence at school, home and in their communities. Annually, referrals to state child protective services involve 6.6 million children, and roughly 3.2 million of those children are subject to an investigated report. The District of Columbia is also facing an alarming trend. According to News Channel 4, more than half of the homicide victims in 2018 are teens or children. The Mayor, D.C. Metropolitan Police Department and the D.C. Council have all done significant work to try and prevent increased crime. In late April, Mayor Bowser kicked off her Summer Crime Initiative and also launched a new MPD Crime Mapping Application. MPD has undertaken initiatives to hunt down illegal guns and more. 

Additionally, the Council has stepped up to make our streets and communities safe for everyone but most importantly, for youth. Bills such as Councilmember Grosso’s Childhood Protection Against Sexual Abuse Amendment Act and the Office on Out of School Time Grants and Youth Outcomes Establishment Act seek to ensure that our youth are protected and have opportunities afforded to them to keep them out of harm’s way. Other bills before the Council to address violence or adverse actions, particularly against youth include the Youth Rehabilitation Amendment Act, Neighborhood Engagement Achieves Results Amendment Act, Youth Mentoring Initiative Establishment Act and more. 

Many of the city’s leaders are working to stand up and stop the violence. They’ve introduced bills, held hearings, and had meetings in communities trying to resolve these problems.  Still, despite their best efforts, there is more work to be done as just in the past couple weeks, there has been an uptick in the number of homicides and incidences with guns across the city, primarily East of the River.

Addressing violence against youth is going to require ongoing efforts from all city leaders, residents, community organizations, faith-based institutions and many others but a broader conversation is also necessary.

Today’s youth are a product of the constant media churn, social media age and more. They are dealing with cyberbullying, an uptick in school shootings, worsening mental health, and the list goes on. As a rising senior at Cesar Chavez Public Charter School in D.C., I see these struggles play out in real time. From gun violence, gang violence, and bullying.  Though my peers are facing so many traumatic situations, we are fighters. We are survivors and we are pushing for change. Members of the Parkland, Florida community took to Washington, DC, for the "March for Our Lives" protest, honoring their friends and loved ones who were fatally shot at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. The march was youth organized and youth-led. Black Youth Project 100 is another organization of youth committed to advocacy and pushing for change.

Despite all the challenges my peers and I face, we will change the world and we will inspire a nation. I’m glad to be a young person in this important time of youth activism and I can’t wait to see everything we will achieve.

*This post is part of an ongoing series of posts by Councilmember Grosso’s staff to support professional development. All posts are approved and endorsed by Councilmember Grosso. Malik is a rising senior at Cesar Chavez Public Charter School-Capitol Hill, and participated in the Cesar Chavez Policy Fellowship.*