COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – Community leaders in Columbus are working to combat youth violence with a new approach: making a choice.
The grassroots initiative will target youth ages nine to 17, with the goal to drive the murder rate in the city down and target their minds to choose the right path.
The initiative is called the Vergewe Summit, which is Afrikaans for “forgive.”
Pastor Mark Hampton of the Fresh Start Worship Center said it is time the community stops looking at the city’s youth as a problem but as an opportunity for change.
“It’s absolutely impossible, but we are going to do it anyway,” Hampton said.
He has grown tired of seeing the pain in a mother’s eyes when they lose a child and holding funerals for young people. That’s how Hampton said he came up with the idea for the Vergewe Summit.
“So the summit is about getting this group of young Black males, 500 to 1,000 Black males, in one room to get them to do something that we have never asked them to do,” Hampton said. “We’ve asked them to come to our midnight basketball. We’ve asked them to come to our job fairs, but the one thing we’ve never done: we’ve never asked them to make a decision to live.”
Hampton said this is the first step in owning the responsibility.
The Vergewe Summit is set for April 14, where the youth will hear from a diverse group of “impact leaders” about the effect gun violence has had on them.
“We are going to put that information in the ears and in the minds and in the hearts of these young men before they ever pull the trigger,” Hampton said. “They’re going to know what the aftereffects are. The whole goal is to get their thinking right, get them some tools for managing how they cope with the environment they are born in.”
The Vergewe Summit website is launching on Sunday and they are actively recruiting young people to be involved.
“This has been in the works for six, seven months and it’s for one moment,” Hampton said. “The moment we get them to make a decision.”
After the summit, there will be a six to ten-week intensive to teach the youth vital life skills.