LOS ANGELES—Summer is here, along with beach parties, backyard barbeques, and house parties. But unfortunately, along with what should be fun ends up as heartbreak for families and communities mourning youth caught in the crossfire of fratricidal conflicts.
Activists and community organizations across the country say a variety of actions must be taken to create the kind of climate that would keep them safe and reduce violence.
As of May 1, 2023, at least 13,959 people have died from gun violence in the U.S. this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive—which is an average of roughly 115 deaths each day.
Of those who died, 491 were teens and 85 were children. And the numbers are increasing.
On June 10, according to police and news reports, 16-year-old Quincy Reese Jr., a high school honor student and star basketball player, was fatally shot once in the head, after he left a party in South Los Angeles.
He died at the scene, though paramedics attempted to render aid. There is no known motive for the shooting, or description of the suspect(s) responsible, according to police.
Quincy Reese Sr., his father, alleged, “It was a setup.” His son, who was about to enter 12th grade at Crenshaw High School, went to a party with friends. “I’ve got videos to where somebody he was hanging with inside, they got into it with some other people, and he tried to get away with his teammate,” Mr. Reese Sr. told The Final Call by telephone.
“It started over a girl. They lured him out. He tried to get away. But of course, he’s not like his daddy. He doesn’t know how to move. He don’t know about these streets like that, because daddy kept him away from ‘em,” Mr. Reese said.
His son’s thinking was different, said Mr. Reese, as he reflected on the life, vision and dreams already impacting others at a young age. Quincy Jr. had in the 11th grade already received interest letters from 58 colleges and universities, said his father.
The teen worked out at 4:30 in the morning three days a week during summer breaks, had multiple businesses, including a clothing line, and was about to launch his tennis shoe brand, according to his father. Mr. Reese said he had just bought his son a car and paid for him to take driver’s education classes. Instead, the family is preparing to bury Quincy Jr. on July 7, after a funeral service at City of Refuge Church in L.A.
“We’re all torn, both sides. It’s shocking because we know he’s not like that. But the way he went out says ‘hate.’ It was envy and jealousy,” stated Mr. Reese Sr.
According to Mr. Reese Sr., he and his son enjoyed doing many things together, including watching videos of the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, and they were going to convert to Islam. His son was really impacted by the Minister’s message about women, specifically, “Without a woman on your side, you can’t be a man, because that woman makes you a man, as well, because you have to deal with her and she has to be protected and comes first,” Mr. Reese Sr. stated. “I might not be verbatim, but that was the message me and him held on to. I was teaching him how to protect his woman, his mother, his granny,” he added.
“The only way this changes is the parents inside the house. That’s it. Nothing else changes … gun laws, that sh*t is not doing nothing. It’s inside the house,” said Mr. Reese, Sr.
“What I need is for these Black fathers to be present … do better,” he added.
Self-improvement and keeping the peace
Each human being has to work to improve themselves, stated Nation of Islam Student Minister Willie Muhammad of Mosque No. 46 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Black folks still must purge themselves of the remaining sickness of self-hatred, he said. “It’s causing us to continue to kill one another. Isn’t it interesting that in the word kill is the word ‘ill’? That’s the greatest challenge,” he continued, lifting divine guidance from the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad’s book “Message to the Blackman in America.”
In Chapter 19, titled “First Love Yourself,” Mr. Muhammad writes: “One of the greatest handicaps among the so-called Negroes is that there is no love for self, nor love for his or her own kind. This not having love for self is the root cause of hate (dislike), disunity, disagreement, quarreling, betraying, stool pigeons and fighting and killing one another.”
That is the solution, explained Student Minister Willie Muhammad. “We have some Blacks growing in that area, however, there are more that aren’t,” he stated. He also pointed out Minister Farrakhan’s book, “A Torchlight for America,” in which he shared some very profound insights regarding the violence plaguing America.
The Minister spoke about how the thoughts of the American people as a result of the devaluing of life, which among other things, has produced a cold-hearted generation that doesn’t value life, said Student Minister Muhammad. Children shaped under such thinking are born into a world where many of the systems don’t value life nor properly grow the human being, so the result is human beings who walk on two feet but mentally and spiritually are on all fours, said Student Minister Muhammad, echoing the wisdom contained in “Torchlight.”
“So self-improvement is needed and a proper understanding and relationship with God,” he said. “Our role, duty, and responsibility is to continue to teach our people in a way that helps to transform their thinking and change their perspective. As the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan has said, a change in perspective can spark a change in a twinkling of an eye,” stated Student Minister Muhammad, who conducts conflict resolution trainings in various cities.
“What would help them to change their perspective is if they just took a moment to hear one of the most important aspects of this Teaching, which is God came for them! For us! That says something about our value,” he added.
Youth violence stems from many factors, according to advocates, gang interventionists, and community leaders.
Dr. Aquil Basheer founded the Professional Community Intervention Training Institute International (P.C.I.T.I.I.) and several other peacekeeping organizations in Los Angeles to address various types of violence, trauma, and crisis. The group helps draft public safety systems and local organizations to take ownership of their communities through human development.
In his over 47 years of peacekeeping work, he’s observed that success is in putting the community first. The youngest child they’ve helped was an eight-year-old. According to Dr. Basheer, there is a lack of real men who understand the components of manhood, and who can successfully transfer that knowledge to today’s youth.
“These young boys are going to attach themselves to whatever they can because at the end of the day, they will be formed into something, whether the male is there or not. They will be formed,” he stated.
Part of the problem is that the educational system is not teaching this generation anything, and they turn away from it, particularly young Black males usually in the 3rd to 5th grade, added Dr. Basheer. In the adolescent system, there’s a lack of understanding of who they are and what their purpose is, and those in the broader category buy into false narratives about themselves, he observed.
“We’re up against a devaluing of life that I’ve never seen so far in this country. And these young brothers, as well as these young sisters, are up really up against some obstacles that are really steep,” said Dr. Basheer. “If we don’t get more elders, not ‘olders,’ in this continuum to work and change that effort, I truly feel we’re going to lose generations of our young adults.”
Continuing the work
Brilliance and Excellence, a Chicago, Illinois-based movement, works to showcase the brilliance and excellence of boys and young men of color and to promote safe and peaceful communities.
“No more violence! That is the strategy,” stated Vondale Singleton, founder of CHAMPS Mentoring, in a recent interview with CBS 2 News reporter Shardaa Gray. His organization works to create a better future for young men in the community and is one of four Chicago-based male mentoring organizations that make up Brilliance and Excellence.
The co-founders are Kareem Wells, founder of KWOE Foundation. The acronym “KWOE” stands for know your genius, work to be unstoppable, own your actions, and explore the world. Jermaine Anderson, founder of I Am a Gentleman, and Dr. Marlon Haywood, founder of the Urban Male Network are the other co-founders.
“Many times, when I’m in meetings, I don’t see people that look like us, that are serving our people, that are trying to help our youth. And the Brilliance and Excellence Movement represents Black men coming together and saying that we want to do something positive and help our young Black men and girls in our community,” stated Dr. Haywood to Ms. Gray during the interview.
They partner with approximately 16 other organizations and work through efforts like the “No More Violence” campaign to save the lives of youth in the “Windy City.” Part of the groups’ work to promote nonviolence and inspire youth engagement includes alternative activities, such as targeted one-mile walks. At the end of their June 10 march, vendors provided youth with job opportunities and resources to help make them productive members of society. Over the next 12 weeks they, along with other community groups, plan to walk in unity through neighborhoods, holding “no violence” flags.
“I think we’ve all had enough. We’ve seen too many kids lose their lives, in this city that we all love,” stated Mr. Wells, in that same CBS 2 News interview.
In his 22 years of working with youth in the Black community, from Boys & Girls Clubs and Boy Scouts to Juvenile Justice, Andrew Muhammad, founder of Baltimore Brothers in Baltimore, Maryland, explains that young people need outlets and opportunities to have fun and be themselves. But they also need Black men in their communities to make sure they can get back and forth, whether it’s to a basketball game, on a playground, or just be able to go to a store, he stated.
“The men have to come out and just do regular checks, for no reason at all. … One of the biggest challenges that we have is the men are not protecting our community so young people can enjoy it,” stated Andrew Muhammad.
One of their programs is Manhood Training 101, which teaches and trains young men everything from tying their shoes to tying a tie, how to navigate the streets of Baltimore City, sex education, financial literacy, respect for authority, family, and everyday life issues, according to Andrew Muhammad.
“We basically give them solutions, answers, experience, and we let them know it’s okay to have issues in their households, and here’s how you address them,” he said. And that’s through social skills, martial arts, boxing, anything that will help them, but draws their interest, he stated.
Beyond summer programs, it’s going to take stronger families, urged Student Minister Willie Muhammad. “The research about the positive impact of the presence of a father in the home is amazing! Politicians have to develop the testicular fortitude to pass gun laws that work. Lastly, America needs to listen to the guidance of the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, who in the early ‘80s warned that we would see such violence if we did not listen.”