KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — A community organization in Kalamazoo is trying to get ahead of crime and gun violence by educating kids.
Urban Alliance, Inc. hosted a day camp Monday with the theme, “Hands are meant to heal, not kill.” It’s the second session the organization has held this summer to teach youths about the proper use of guns.
“The hand can be used to hug. A hand can be used for a handshake, a high five, but we don’t want to use our hand to pull the trigger and hurt someone,” outreach manager James Harris said. “I think if we can get in front of this thing at an early age and teaching kids about gun usage, I think that will help to mitigate gun violence.”
Speakers included an officer from the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety and turkey hunter Guy Zuck, who offered insight about recreational use of guns.
There were about 25 kids and teens in attendance. Many had stories of how gun violence has affected them.
“It really makes me sad because I’ve been shot and people shouldn’t be shot,” 10-year-old Zeke Juarez said.
Zeke was 3 years old when he was grazed by a bullet on Father’s Day. He said a man shot 10 rounds in his family’s direction while they were outside their home.
“(Guns are) worthless. It’s not even anything you should care about,” he said. “Hunting and other stuff, it can be used for, other than shooting people.”
While it’s important for adults to be aware of the negative impacts of guns, he believes kids should be taught the same lesson.
“I know this story of this 9-year-old kid and 6-year-old brother. They were playing with a gun. It wasn’t on safety. The 6-year-old picked it up and shot his 9-year-old brother in the head and he died,” he said.
The youths that attended the camp said they felt empowered to be solutions in their community. Jaila Cooper, 14, plans to have more conversations with her friends about communicating effectively rather than using weapons or other forms of violence. She said she would like to see the community come together, especially after witnessing her neighbors getting into a fight with guns.
“Just seeing that and seeing my little brothers see that changed my view of everything,” she said. “We are listening and we see what goes on and what adults do impacts (us) even if it doesn’t right now.”
The youth offered this solution for anyone contemplating using violence against another person.
“My solution would be instead of being their enemy, become their friend,” Zeke said. “Well, you don’t necessarily have to be their friend but don’t put hate towards them. Don’t put them down. Don’t pull out a gun and shoot them.”