By Ciara Smith, Gary Crusader
Kisha Davis knows the effects of violence first hand and she shared her hard-won lessons with over 600 students from Gary, Hammond, and East Chicago schools at the Hammond Civic Center on April 7th.
Davis is the mother of former Westside student Daja Brookshire, who was fatally shot in 2015 by someone in a passing car.
“Daja was a lovely young lady. She did everything she was supposed to do. She was great at home, she was God-fearing. My message to you is to live! My charge to you is to live, do your best with whatever gifts have been given to you. …Be the best that you can possibly be. Do your best. Listen to what the people that are in charge of you are telling you. Do that, because it is important,” said Davis.
“One thing about violence, it can hit any of you at any given point in time. It was in 2015 that it was my time, but I wouldn’t change my seat for anything in this world, because I know that there is a bigger purpose that I am supposed to do. I am supposed to give! You are supposed to give! We are to love and to give. If you don’t have any love, you cannot give. Love one another. It doesn’t matter where you’re from, what school you go to, or whatever. Love one another.”
The Northwest Indiana students stood to honor Daja as part of the Project Outreach and Prevention (P.O.P.) on Youth Violence Leadership Conference. The rally capped P.O.P.’s celebration of National Youth Violence Prevention and Public Health Week, which included a tour, motivational speakers, and celebrity entertainment.
The goal? To inspire students to get involved with S.A.V.E, Students Against Violence Everywhere, a student-led organization dedicated to decreasing violence in schools and communities. The unique S.A.V.E. program emphasizes the role students and youth can play in minimizing violence.
P.O.P. founder Dr. Mike McGee began the tours last year when he realized NWI and Chicago lacked any such S.A.V.E. programs. After 26 years there were over 22,000 members and 2,200 chapters, but none in Indiana or Chicago.
“In 2008 when I moved back to Indiana, I started P.O.P. I started that program because I’m the Chief of E.R. and I saw a lot of our youth coming in shot or stabbed. Fast forward to 2014 and we were trying to become a designated trauma center at Gary Methodist – and as part of a trauma center, you have to do some form of prevention and outreach. So I brought the program back then, we incorporated and became a 501c3,” said Dr. McGee.
McGee partnered with Chief of Trauma, Dr. Reuben Rutlan to bring their vision to life.
“We targeted three sets of youth, one being the youth in LCJC , alternate programs, and those kids are easy to get to because they’re in one spot. Our biggest challenge was reaching the kids in schools. So we needed to figure out a way to access the school system. The best practiced organization was this program called S.A.V.E.”
Reality star and rapper Nia Kay from Jermaine Dupree’s “The Rap Game” was present as the S.A.V.E. ambassador, as well as artist D-Lo, and Power 92 DJs Nehphets and Hotrod to keep the students entertained.
Students nominated their favorite service officers to be presented with a special award, presented by the Chief of Police, and IUN students presented the Stop the Bleed Campaign, to teach students how to handle wounds until paramedics arrive.
Keynote speaker, Omar Yamini, even spoke to students from a 10×10 jail cell about his incarceration experience at 19 years old.
S.A.V.E. school presidents also addressed their peers. “This is so important to me because violence is everywhere. It can contact you at school or at home, it can be all around you, but you just have to keep pressing through and moving forward. This is why S.A.V.E. is so important, this is why we try to incorporate it in schools and the community, and I hope everyone, even the S.A.V.E. presidents, are doing what they’re supposed to do,” said Essence Baity, President of the Wirt-Emerson S.A.V.E. chapter.
“Our goal right now is to start these S.A.V.E. programs in all high schools in NWI, and we want to expand to junior high schools, and elementary schools. Once we do that we start changing the culture of our youth,” said McGee. “A lot of kids, they get into a situation and instead of fighting they now pull our knives and guns and shoot each other. So if you can, change that mentality, by now getting the kids to say ‘We don’t want to do this anymore.’ Because we can’t target the adults who have now finished high school and are out in the world. All we can target are the youth who’re still in school and hope we can make a difference.”