By Mariah Walls
Local residents sit outside their houses enjoying the breeze on a Monday evening when a young lady in a yellow shirt comes up to them looking to learn about the issues and concerns they see in their neighborhood. This young lady is 18-year-old Dontazsha Duncan.
Duncan is an ambassador for the Safe Zones Initiative. She expresses herself in a way that is unlike many other youth in Milwaukee, very open and approachable. In an interview, she shared about how she didn’t always make the best decisions. Duncan went on to tell about her best friend who passed away about a year ago due to a senseless act of violence.
“After that I was just like, I couldn’t live that type of life anymore,” she said. “I just had to change my life around.”
Duncan was distraught. She could barely get her words out as she talked about how her best friend was shot and killed on her porch near 12th Street and Concordia Avenue. That seemed to be the turning point in her life.
Duncan was recruited to Safe Zones when her now mentor Khalil Coleman came to a neighborhood where she was hanging out and handed out applications for young people to apply.
Safe Zones is a city-funded program that works to improve the wellbeing of neighborhoods that are severely impacted by violence. It is an alternative to traditional public safety approaches that uses people who live in these neighborhoods to bring about peace. This is the program’s second year, and it is only in two neighborhoods in all of Milwaukee.
Duncan was one of few young people that took the opportunity. As a Safe Zones ambassador, she is required to approach residents throughout her neighborhood and address their concerns around violence. Then they try to come up with better solutions to solve them or even prevent them from happening at all. If they know that people are fighting or in a conflict, the ambassadors try to make peace before anything gets out of hand.
“We are working to stop the violence,” Duncan explained.
By joining Safe Zones, youth have a good paying job. The ambassadors go through training in which they learn how to de-escalate conflict and come up with resolutions.
Duncan’s Safe Zones team is responsible for the Garden Homes neighborhood. They go out every week night to make their rounds, deciding on a plan and different goals each night. Some nights they focus on areas deemed “hot spots” in order to prevent tense situations from getting worse. Other evenings, they just try to get the contact information for as many residents as they can so they can inform them of different community events coming up or neighborhood meetings they are organizing.
When walking in the urban communities, the ambassadors walk in a certain formation. Intervenors walk in the front, which is Duncan’s role of approaching the residents. She seems to be the most outgoing one in the group, easily relating to the residents she speaks with. The leads walk in the middle. They are the ones who direct the conversation with residents in the community and the routes the team walks. Lastly, the guards follow behind. They are responsible for making sure their surroundings are safe.
Duncan said she likes her job and that she hopes she can influence other young people to make a positive turnaround in an effort to make their communities better.
“If I can do it, anyone can,” she said.
By Nakeysha Alexander-Haywood
It seems like people in Milwaukee are dying everyday because of gun violence. School and mass shootings feel like they get worse each year. The U.S. has more guns owned by civilians than any country. Two weeks ago, my older cousin was shot in the back of his head while walking from the gas station. His name is Michael Reed, and he was in his mid-30’s. When my mom came in my room crying, I was worried. Then she told me, “Cousin Michael just got shot.” Gun violence in Milwaukee has influenced my family and I personally because of this incident. Hearing that my own cousin was shot for no reason made me realize how serious everything is. People are out here killing without remorse. The people who are going around murdering other people are not thinking about how it affects the community. I can be the first to say that it does.
By Donald Beamon
Through 2015–2016, Milwaukee has had a lot of gun violence that has lead to the loss of many innocent lives. So today I wanted to express myself and tell you how I feel about it. Even before the year of 2015, it has been going on, but it seemed like in that year alone we had so many people dying due to gun violence.
It never really caught my attention until the year of 2013 when my big cousin was killed after a fight with a grown man at party that could have been easily prevented. I guess you can say he was at the wrong place at the wrong time, but the moral of the story is that a life was taken over a fight between a 14-year-old and a 25-year-old when the situation was all petty.
May 5, 2016, was the day the Za’layia was pronounced dead after a bullet went through her house and hit her. All of this happened after some people were selling drugs in front of the kids. My blood cousin went outside to try to make the users go around the corner where there were no kids outside. They then felt like my cousin was trying move them out of their spot. They said alright, and a couple minutes later a car pulled up with like four dudes. They started shooting the house up, and as they were pulling off, my cousin came out shooting back. Then another car pulled up shooting.
The point is that people have to make better decisions in life when it comes to things like that because there are kids that are out there playing and enjoying themselves when you have adults that are outside doing all this. Everybody has something to live for, and some don’t get to show their excellence because their life is shortened due to gun violence or something as petty as driving a stolen car and crashing it.