Last Friday’s Community Day was one of the best we have had thus far. We worked with a program called GATE, whose exact acronym escapes me, but is a gun violence prevention program run through Jackson Memorial Hospital here in Miami. Mimi (the director/former brain surgeon/visonary) in her words, “got tired of seeing so much trauma caused by gun violence in Miami.”
So, she did something about it. GATE serves as a program for young men caught with guns at school. The program is court ordered and is not a class as much as it is a community. The program focuses on the logistics of the body after it experiences trauma. This includes a tour of the ICU where students learn the logistics of comas, the morgue and the process of claimed and unclaimed bodies. Finally, the kids visit a funeral home where they learn the logistics of casket, burial, cremation, and funeral and its expenses that many families can not afford. Each of the men is to write their eulogy. As Mimi put it, she has never seen anyone wanting to be remembered as, “thug” or “gangbanger.” Finally, the children learn from their “Peer Mentors” (who have previously graduated from the course) topics of anti-bullying, friendship, and anger management. Most of the men graduate successfully from the program and continue to stay in touch with the program as either Peer Mentors or visitors.
Recently in a coalition meeting led by, “Gangs Alternative, Inc,” a few people cited young men as a hindrance to moving forward in race, gender, sexuality, and class relations. In light of recent events (Lord, in your mercy!), it brings up these issues, again. Who’s empowering young men in our society? Who’s telling them it’s no okay to steal, cheat, or lie? Who is telling kids it’s okay to be “nerdy” or to be passionate about a school subject and that you should pursue that love?
I don’t think I can be a leader in the black community, but I always will consider myself an ally. Over and over I hear, “well our leaders [in schools, gov’t, etc] don’t look like us [re: black].” And that may be true. But that won’t stop me from talking to my neighbor, saying hello as I pass you on the street, greet you and ask you how your day is going, and continue and have feelings from stories told to me about forgotten “black” Miami. As well as continue honest discussions about our differences.
I’d like to close on a note about bullying as this was identified by the Peer Mentors at GATE as our number one source of violence among young men. If you think for a second that bullying transcends race, class, gender, and sexuality you are absolutely incorrect. And if you think for a second that you have not ever been bullied, think harder. You have. Somehow. Somehow you have been oppressed, put into a box, and told to think or act a certain way.
The GATE programs begin to dissect some of these bigger questions, stereotypes, and issues. The GATE program is not the answer to all of Miami’s issues. It’s not the final solution, but it’s a start. And Mimi is a visionary. When I think about the leader inside and who I am becoming, I’ll carry a piece of Mimi and the Peer Leaders at GATE. They’re on the frontline and I want to be with them.
As I begin to see the vision and the direction of my life, I ask these questions. I ask them openly. I ask them honestly. And I hope that you will ask them with me, too.