GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - Strong role models, more opportunities, positive outlook and the community working together were common themes during a WOOD TV8 town hall, "Beyond the Violence."
The 64 people in the audience -- Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell, the police chiefs of Grand Rapids and surrounding cities , the Michigan State Police, the Kent County sheriff, local school leaders, grieving mothers, former gang members and community activists -- shared their thoughts about the causes and potential solutions to violence.
The town hall is the latest in a series of community meetings begun by area pastors in conjunction with the police and other community activists to stem the tide that has seen 11 people gunned down over the past six weeks in the city of Grand Rapids.
"Beyond the Violence" will re-air Saturday at 9 p.m. on WOOD TV8
The issues affect more than just the city of Grand Rapids, though the crime stats for 2012 show a 10% spike in violent crime in the city. Though the overall statistics are still down from a decade ago, GRPD Chief Kevin Belk said this stretch of violence feels different.
"Obviously we're worried about the last six weeks, but that is an abnormality in our community. Over the long term, we've certainly seen a significant decrease in violent crime in our community."
In metro Grand Rapids, violence has become increasingly senseless and random, some even suggesting it's been normalized in the city. The preferred way to settle disagreements, it seems, is assault.
And more voices are now saying it has to stop.
Former gang member John McKinney said, "We need guys like myself who can mentor these guys and teach these guys that there's a better way, that they have better opportunities, but those opportunities have to be better. And I think that's what's going on right now."
A series of local meetings, Stop It!, are designed to address various issues. The first meeting brought more than 1000 people out to discuss ways to decrease the violence.
Neighbors in the toughest areas are ready to make something happen.
"Right now, we need the parents to stand up," said Joyce Harris. "I had kids and I was there. That's what the parents need to do right now."
Mayor George Heartwell said if it was up to him, there would be far fewer guns on the street.
The parents of Madhi Hayes -- who adopted him when he was 15 because they felt they could help him -- said they are discouraged. They want to establish a safe haven for kids in neighborhoods.
They adopted him because they looked at it as "possibly helping someone go the right way." They guided him to the military.
Laurie Lee, who was beaten and left for dead , was in the audience. After a long recuperation, she said, "I cannot live in fear." She credits it to a "strong faith in God."
Rodrick Daniels shared his story about being a gang-banger who turned his life around. He talked in detail about the Code of Silence that surrounds crime. "I would say reach out to your pastor...the churches should have the resources to help" break the silence that fosters crime.
Radio personality Robert S said the Code of Silence stems from fear. His mother's house was shot up and he has family members in gangs. But the Code of Silence is what continues the cycle of violence. Robert S preaches education as the way out of the cycle.
But sometimes it's hard to break that code, which is where Silent Observer comes in. A representative from Silent Observer said they have trained tip-takers staffed 24 hours a day every day to help take anonymous information that can solve crimes.
A study by the U.S. Department of Justice indicates students who admit skipping school are 12 times more likely to commit a serious assault, 21 times more likely to be a victim of serious assault, seven times more likely to be arrested, 16 times more likely to use marijuana, and about half as likely to be employed as an adult.
Young rapper Steven Malcolm is a criminal justice student who overcame a tough background and now uses music to help reach young people with a positive, uplifting message.
Other young people shared their stories about what's happened in their neighborhoods, their lives and how they have experienced a loss due to violence.
A bill before the House would hold back third-grade students who are not proficient in reading.
Power lines blocked busy 28th Street near the Grand Rapids-Kentwood border Monday evening.
Former South African president Nelson Mandela will be honored Tuesday morning with a public memorial service expected to be viewed by people around the world.