According to neighborhoodscout.com, the city of Grand Rapids, MI holds a population of just under 190,000 people. Within that amount are people with their own story. They range from the happy to the sad and to those of violence. This is the story of Cruz, a former gang member who sought the friendship and limelight of a gang but soon found out that this life was not a smooth path. This story also highlights the work of Mario Alfaro, a youth advocate and gang specialist with the Hispanic Center of Western Michigan.
Alfaro works with gang members through a program called, Supporting Our Leaders (SOL). According the center’s official website, “the Supporting Our Leaders (SOL) Program’s mission is to strengthen families and reduce youth violence by offering educational and cultural empowerment opportunities.” With a recent rise in violence, Alfaro spoke on a local radio station to express his concerns. Others have also noticed a spike in violent crime and according to mlive.com, “Police Chief Kevin Belk released 2012 statistics that show a 10-percent spike in violent crime from the previous year.” The spike was enough to bring local leaders and authorities together for one of a series of town hall meetings to share ideas on how to prevent and stop this problem.
It was just this past January when the town hall meeting covered by WOOD TV8, a local news station, dubbed “Beyond the Violence” occurred. According to their official website, “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 site goes on to say that, “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.”
It is people like Alfaro of the Hispanic Center of Western Michigan and other local leaders of the community, as mentioned above, that strive to curb the issue of violence. Whether it is due to gangs, the youth or random acts, the endgame of peace is something they strongly believe in. As for Cruz, whose name and voice have been changed for his safety, sought help through the center. Although he eventually left the life of a gang member, he suffered 20 gunshot wounds as he walked home from celebrating his 18th birthday. The shooting was done by a group of people who he once had a problem with when he was involved in gangs. Cruz lived through the incident and tells his experience in his interview within this publication.
The entire audio story can be found at the beginning of this post. Below you can view an infographic for more information on gangs. For more information on the Hispanic Center of Western Michigan, follow the links below. You can also view images of Alfaro, the center and some art created by the youth from the community.
(click one of the images below to activate the slideshow.)