Music filled the giant sanctuary inside Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church Tuesday night to open a special church service devoted to the creative anti-violence efforts of 32 students from nearby schools.
Several hundred people sang inside a space that any act would be happy to fill.
“We want the kids to share their work with as many people as possible,” said Rev. Alyn E. Waller before the event began. “And one thing we can do is create a crowd.”
Moments later Waller stepped to the lectern to explain the event – a premiere of two films created by students from four Northwest Philadelphia high schools meant to speak to their peers about decision making and ways to avoid violent crime.
The Voices of Youth anti-violence project was started by United States Attorney Zane David Memeger in February as a way to get close to young people while they face some of the toughest decisions in life, and hopefully create bridges among the institutions that impact their lives, like schools, churches, community groups and law enforcement agencies.
At the kick off in February, where participants and their parents gathered at Philadelphia Center for Arts and Technology, Memeger spoke with maps of the city behind him, which showed almost 20,000 dots representing victims of shootings and homicide from 2001 to 2010.
At the church on Tuesday, Memeger focused on the youth.
“What avenues are out there? One of the major areas is the schools,” he said. “Schools are the lifeline for the next generation.”
In Northwest Philadelphia, he said, there have been significant crime issues, but there is also a significant community support network. So Imhotep Institute Charter, Martin Luther King, New Media Technology Charter and Hope Charter high schools were chosen for the project. By matching two student groups with professional film makers to work on the subject of violent crime in a creative way, Memeger hoped the program would establish a different kind of relationship between the students and his office than has ever been created before.
Rev. Waller saw this as a winning tactic.
“I’m excited,” he said. “It’s always good when kids learn a skill. It’s always good when people in general find their voice, and it’s great when different aspects of our community come together.”
The 32 students were separated into two groups. One was led by El Sawyer and Jonathan Kaufman, both from The Village of Arts and Humanities.
Nathaniel Wilkinson, a New Media student, introduced the group’s movie, “Know (the) Ledge.” Without knowing where the ledge is, he said, one will fall off. He also explained how he is more likely to listen to his friends than his parents or other adults when it comes to advice about life.
The movie showed a young boy who was persuaded into burglary and was caught by the police. At the end of the film, there was a scene in a barber shop, where people encouraged children to stay in school.
After having watched the first movie, Darlene Robinson, who works with the Youth Aid Panel, thought that the next step was to “take this show on the road.”
She said the project allowed young people to see it from their own perspective.
“My Block is Crazy” was the other team’s film. The students worked with Will Brock and Ozzie Jones of The Well Productions.
Hope Charter student Thomesha Butler, who introduced the movie, wasn’t supposed to be a part of the group. But she asked to be let into the project, and she wound up playing a large part in the movie.
The documentary-style film featured snippets of the news, fights between a group of girls, and had a cameo by Mayor Michael Nutter.
Ernest Perry said the first film showed what could happen and the second was the reality. He thought it was necessary to bring awareness to children, who do not always think of the consequences but should realize they could be tried as adults for certain crimes.
Memeger awarded the students with certificates after the movies. Today’s town hall meeting at the National Constitution Center at 9:30 a.m. will mark the project’s conclusion. Memeger will be joined by Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, Deputy District Attorney George Mosey and the students.