Gun Violence Rising
Unfortunately, gun violence among teen communities is on the rise. There has been an increase in gun homicides among children and teenagers since 2020. With that said, gun deaths have surpassed vehicle-related deaths as the leading cause of death for Americans ages 1 to 17. School shootings are becoming frequent across the country. Since the Columbine High School massacre in 1999, 311,000 students have experienced gun violence at 331 schools. This has resulted in the deaths of at least 185 children and educators as well as another 369 injured by nonfatal gun wounds.
One such tragedy was the Parkland school shooting in South Florida on February 14, 2018. The community was horrified at the loss of 17 innocent lives. The shooter pled guilty and was sentenced to life in prison without parole in November 2022. However, those impacted by this act of senseless violence are still reeling from the sudden loss of loved ones five years later.
Miami Empowering Youth
Youth For Christ’s (YFC, www.yfc.net) Miami chapter has been invested in the Miami area schools since 1948. Miami Youth for Christ works together with other like-minded partners to help young people make good choices. Following that, they establish a solid foundation for life and positively impact the world around them. Miami YFC is committed to empowering the children, youth, and families in the community. This is done by providing faith-based services that enhance their emotional, spiritual, physical, and educational well-being through educational and outreach programs.
The Miami YFC Executive Director is Tia Diaz-Balart. When it comes to gun violence in the community, Diaz-Balart and the rest of the staff and volunteers work to create a safe space for youth struggling within a community where violence is commonplace.
Safe Area for Youth
“After the Parkland shooting, our whole community was heartbroken,” said Diaz-Balart. “We at YFC began to wonder what might have happened if the troubled teens who commit these tragic acts had people in their lives who would love on them and care for them the way YFC does. It really created this urgency to reach youth everywhere with the love of Christ before it’s too late.
“Unfortunately, gun violence still happens in this area. Recently, one of the students in our juvenile justice ministry had his home shot at in a drive-by shooting. Thankfully, he and his mother are safe. YFC had the resources from the community to ensure their safety. This included providing them with alternative shelter and helping expedite his legal proceedings to transfer him to a safer area.”
Hip-Hop Bringing Hope
In the face of such turmoil, Miami YFC has many unique resources to foster a safe community for teens in the area. Catalyst Hip-Hop, part of YFC’s City Life ministry, provides a safe and positive venue for youth involved in the Hip-Hop culture to break dance, create positive graphic art, DJ and emcee. This is done while connecting to the positive message of Jesus Christ. Catalyst Director David Arnaezhas witnessed firsthand the influence a comforting, positive outreach can have in the lives of troubled youth.
Asking For Help
“Recently, we had a 12-year-old boy join Catalyst who seemed very confident and sure of himself,” said Arnaez. “There was nothing out of the ordinary about him and he seemed to fit in well with the other kids. After almost three weeks in our community, he reached out to a girl in our group. He sent her a video of what looked like someone committing suicide with a gun. The girl immediately told her father, who told her to cut off communication with the boy. When she told our team later, she also mentioned to us that the boy bragged to her in school about having a gun at home. We immediately contacted the school and law enforcement, and they investigated the issue. It turns out that while there was no gun in the home, his uncle was kidnapped and held at gunpoint just a few years prior. He was in intense therapy to get over the incident.”
“These situations are incredibly serious. While the schools and families are doing everything they can, these kids enmeshed in gun culture here need more,” said Diaz-Balart. “They need someone to confide in who they know has their best interests at heart. Having a safe, loving, nurturing, caring environment where they know that they’re heard and can trust the leaders with important and sensitive information is vital for the safety of the community — and can even save lives.”