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Kids in crisis: 5 DC activists talk violence trends among kids; where we go from here

WUSA 9's Jess Arnold sat down with five activists helping DC kids heal from trauma and giving them opportunities.

WASHINGTON — To round out this week of stories on kids in crisis, WUSA9's Jess Arnold sat down with five activists working to end the cycle of violence in D.C.

The Panel

Ryane Nickens: Founder of the TraRon Center, which provides art therapy and a haven for kids exposed to gun violence to help them healthfully endure the complexities of loss- while promoting community health and solidarity.

Pastor Delonte Gholston: Founder of Peace Walks DC, which is a coalition of gun violence survivors, churches, nonprofits and activists working towards ending gun violence in the DMV.

Jawanna Hardy: Founder of Guns Down Friday, which offers support to kids exposed to gun violence, through community events and mentorship.

Gail Avent: Founder of Total Family Care Coalition, which she formed to support families’ journeys while they overcome personal struggles, often associated with gun violence. They connect families with community resources and partner them with a family advocate.

Leshonia Thompson-El: Executive Director of Peace for DC, a group working to fund established community organizations and invest in evidence-based methods in an effort to dramatically reduce gun violence in the city.

All of them have been touched by violence and have been working to end it for years.

RELATED: Kids in crisis: DC kids share why their friends get involved in violence and how they're trying to stop them

Here is part of the hour-long conversation Jess Arnold had with them:

WUSA9's Jess Arnold: “We've seen an increase in violence over the past few years; we've seen an increase in kids getting involved in it. What are your thoughts on what the trends are telling us right now?”

Ryane Nickens: "The trends are telling us we're in trouble…Having to hold kids, because they're scared to go out the door. And they're telling you, they're in your arms crying out, I don't want to die, I don't want to die… It is providing that safe and sacred space that that child can say that, but they also have the services to help them go through it."

Gail Avent: “They haven't been taught to grieve properly… and to say, 'Okay, I lost my parents, my grandparents, but I have a life, I have a life to live.' So you have to re instill some hope… because the worst thing I see in kids is losing a future.”

Leshonia Thompson-El: “What we need is a strategy that involves and includes the community. Because if the government thinks that they can solve this problem without community, I think we’ll continue to see the same cycle of violence."

Jess: "Pastor Delonte, what do we do differently?"

Pastor Delonte Gholston: “What I see is violence is the language of the unheard. You asked me what needs to change. We need to listen better... And what I have not seen, and what I would like to see more of is our city…actively and regularly holding community deep listening sessions in our communities so that our young people can drive the solutions."

Ryane Nickens: “And it's not going to happen overnight, and it's not going to happen with more police officers. It's not going to happen with government throwing this and that. We need a real plan that is rooted in public health.”

Jawanna Hardy: “If you go in any hood in DC, you will find a lady or a man fighting to save that community. But I promise you, they don't get funded. I feel like I'm that person."

Leshonia Thompson-El: “DC like brands itself as being so progressive. But in reality, like we are really lost, and we are like behind the curveball, like we are not getting it, we are missing the mark... And let's be real. This is about racial justice. It's about social justice. It's about economic justice.”

Ryane Nickens: "And, when gun violence isn’t that titillating to politicians and to folks, we will still be here doing this work on a wing and a prayer and try to help our community."

Watch the full roundtable discussion here:

Note: Jess Arnold volunteers on the board of the TraRon Center.

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