Local Youth Violence Summit Aims High - NBC 6 South Florida

Local Youth Violence Summit Aims High

Teen violence summit brings back painful memories for some area youths



    Local Youth Violence Summit Aims High
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    Serious Female Student Looking at the Camera, with Three Boys Standing in the Background Laughing at Her

    The location seemed a bit curious. An anti-violence summit held inside the Bank Atlantic Center, a place where violent hits by hockey players are cheered with gusto.

    But the effect of the gathering will hopefully be to raise awareness among adults and teens that there's a big problem that needs to be attacked by everyone in society, not just parents, teachers, and cops.

    "Until the late '90's, a mere fistfight is what we used to call teen violence, but now, our generation has taken it to a whole new peak and the scope of violent behavior has effected all of society," said Ashley Baptiste, a student at Dillard High School.

    With tears streaming down her cheek, she told the gathering of educators and child advocates of how she's been bullied just because she's Haitian-American.

    "I talk the same, so why me? I dress the same, so why me? I even look the same, so why me?", Baptiste asked rhetorically.

    Among the crowd at the summit, Broward's chief juvenile prosecutor, Maria Schneider, listened with the perspective of someone who deals with teen tragedies all the time.

    South Florida has been host to some of the most nationally publicized and horrific cases of teen violence in recent memory.

    From Teah Wimberly to the boys who set Mikey Brewer on fire to Wayne Treacy, Schneider says all of these cases have something in common.

    "I do see when we look back that there were signs that something was wrong so perhaps the right intervention at the right time would've been a way to avoid the horrible consequences that I end up dealing with," Schneider said. "The people at the front lines, the parents, teachers, mentors, are the people who can really address them early on."

    That's the point of the summit: discuss strategies and ways to send a unified message to kids to choose peace, stop violence. Mikey Brewer's grandmother spoke to the group, urging adults to set positive examples for kids.

    "They know when I'm doing something that's right or wrong," said Maureen Brewer.

    Schneider says it's easy to tell parents to be aware of what their kids are doing, but they need to know where to turn if they suspect a problem is brewing. One possible answer is a new website, www.teenspace211.org.

    It's designed for teenagers, but can also be used by parents. It's totally confidential so kids can feel comfortable using it, and they can also simply dial 2-1-1 in Broward and speak to a counselor, 24-7.

    "The counselor will spend time really talking about what the kid knows, what the child has seen and what the best course of action might be," said Sheila Smith of 211Broward.

    It's a great start, but obviously not a cure-all.

    One of the goals of the summit is to create an environment of positive peer pressure among teenagers, to make bullying and violence a stigma to be avoided.

    After seeing how text messages led to the attack on Josie Ratley, Schneider has some advice for parents: check in on your kids computer and cell phone activities.

    "You get an enormous amount of information about what kids are thinking and doing just by reading Facebook," Schneider says.