Community Activist Redirects Youth Away From Gangs, Guns

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image640x480Iesha Sekou

Place of Residence: New York City

Why She’s a Game Changer: Sekou is on the front lines, trying to prevent gang and gun violence on the streets of New York City and Harlem where she lives, but Sekou is not just one of the activists that you see at the press conference denouncing violence after someone’s been shot and killed.

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Instead, with her group, Street Corner Resources, Sekou, 55, is engaging young people by helping them to express themselves through various media, such as producing their own radio show, newspapers, and music.

And Sekou has turned her young charges into activists, helping them to lobby at the New York statehouse and in Washington, D.C., for everything from changes to the gun laws to funding for programs to help young people.

Sekou has been working with young people in one capacity or another for three decades now, but Street Corner Resources started in 2007, after two 13-year-olds were shot to death in Harlem in quick succession.

“I said we have to educate kids, find out what they like, and use that to get them to think about their behavior and its consequences,” Sekou said in an interview with NewsOne.

Sekou has seen the cycle before: Kids who grow up in homes where there is not sufficient parental guidance tend to influence their peers with negative behavior. Some of that behavior, such as violence as a response to minor conflict and drug use, is gleaned from their environment and even music where some artists talk about being “high all the time” and putting the “chrome to your skull.”

The young person who pulls the trigger is promoted by a circle of young people before they ever  pull the trigger. They have to shoot to resolve conflict to keep a reputation among those people.

There is a culture around having a reputation and maintaining it, but it’s fake.

When they get arrested and are behind bars and facing 25 years to life, they cry, they have nightmares, and they wish they could bring the person back.”

The effort comes in showing that young person a different route, said Sekou.

“We try to help them create a new circle of influence of people producing music, graduating from high school, going to college, and getting training,” said Sekou. “They represent peace in the street and when other kids see it, they want to be involved. They are the pied pipers, but it doesn’t happen overnight.”

Sekou is also using her influence to make larger change. After the shooting at Newtown, Sekou got a call from Governor Andrew Cuomo‘s office. The governor was assembling ideas on ways to help end gun violence. Sekou talked about mental health, the private sale of guns, closing the gun show loophole, and updating firearms. Some of her thoughts were used as Cuomo formulated changes to New York’s gun laws in the form of the SAFE Act, which he recently signed into law.

“I was happy to get the call,” said Sekou.

image640x480-1Sekou tries to remain optimistic, but it’s tough. Recently, she met a Mother who said she had lost her 17-year-old son. Sekou assumed the teen had been killed, but the mother surprised her when she said he was alive and serving life in prison because he had taken someone else’s life. The woman was old enough to be Sekou’s daughter; the teen could have been her grandson.

“I’m optimistic, but it is happening all over the country. This is an epidemic we can no longer flip the channel on and say that’s happening in Chicago or Indianapolis. I get messages all day long about shooting across New York City,” said Sekou.

That’s why she plans to hang around and continue to influence the lives of young people in a positive way.

“I want to be there to answer the question or to resolve the conflict,” said Sekou.

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