City leaders launch youth mentoring campaign

A group of New Haven’s highest ranking public officials gathered on Wednesday to implore members of the Elm City to take action against the youth violence that continues to plague its streets.

Mayor Toni Harp was joined by New Haven Police Department Chief Dean Esserman, newly-minted Fire Department Chief Allyn Wright and Public Schools Superintendent Garth Harries ’95 at the Elk’s Lodge on Webster St. in the late afternoon, where they engaged hundreds of New Haven residents in the wake of two recent homicides involving local youths. The event was designed to garner support for youth programs, spark community engagement through mentoring programs and begin a canvassing campaign to demonstrate city leader’s commitment to addressing the ongoing problem, according to city Youth Services Director and event moderator Jason Bartlett.

“We are assembled this afternoon with a very serious purpose,” Harp said. “We want to stop the senseless, violent crimes that have been stealing our children from New Haven families.”

In a Monday press release, Harp said the meeting was inspired partially by the My Brother’s Keeper, a program for disengaged youth launched by President Barack Obama. Attendees were encouraged to support both My Brother’s Keeper and Gang of Dads, a similar group that works on a local level. Harp highlighted the importance of keeping inner city children safe so that they can go on to live complete, productive lives. “We cannot become so callous to the steady sound of gunfire that we forget each one of those shots fired can take the life of another child from its family forever,” Harp said.

Esserman was joined by many of his officers on Wednesday, including department spokesman David Hartman and Assistant Chief Luiz Casanova. Yale Police Department Chief Ronnell Higgins was also on hand to be Higgins was named the treasurer for an executive group by city Chief Probation Officer Leonard Jahad, who is involved with the local division of My Brother’s Keeper. Esserman, who said that he makes sure to attend every funeral held for the city’s homicide victims, said he appreciated Wednesday’s turnout.

“There is nothing normal, nothing acceptable about losing a child,” Esserman said. “I don’t know where this ends, but it feels like it begins here, today. I’m proud to be a New Havener today.”

Many of those who spoke cited the city’s most recent homicide victims, 16-year-old TJ Gamble, who died from gunshot wounds on April 4, and 17-year-old Taijhon Washington, who was shot and killed March 24.

Harries was the last major public official to take the podium. He spoke on the importance of having adults around to guide local youth who are in the process of becoming contributing members to society. Harries concluded with an anecdotefrom one of Gamble’s teachers who had said she wanted to see Gamble graduate in four years, rather than visit him in jail.

Wright said that his New Haven roots have served as an inspiration for him to come back and find ways to improve life in the city.

“I never forgot where I came from, no matter how high or low I got. I always preached that I’m proud of New Haven,” he said. “I pledge to each and every one of you that I’m going to have every firefighter out there trying to be a mentor and role model.”

Anthony Jefferson, a lifelong New Haven resident who attended the session, said he will be looking for the community to rally together as a result of the words and actions of the city’s leaders.

Obama launched the “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative in February 2014.

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