On Tuesday, as Hampton Roads youth return to school with pencils, notebooks and cool, new book bags, an elite bunch will boast that they got their supplies from Mike Johnson and the barbers at Changing Faces Barbershop in Newport News.
This marks the 6th year for the “Back to School Community Day.” Last year, it provided 150, supply filled bookbags to local youth, and this year offered free haircuts and styling, a bounce house, free food and school supplies, in effort to strengthen community relations.
“We put too much on the fact that a white cop killed a black child,” he remarked. “We’re marching for that, we’re protesting about it, but we’re killing each other every day.”
Johnson’s purpose: To send a message that change starts at home.
“Sometimes we look out the window and we talk about fixing something somewhere else,” he said. “We’re marching here for what happened in Missouri, which, that’s a sad incident that happened, but there are kids dying in Denbigh and nobody’s marching, nobody’s protesting. Its time for us to take back our neighborhoods.”
His mantra is one long held by many who believe that community involvement is the key to ending teen violence, even as it increases.
The Virginia Office of the Attorney General reported the rates of arrest and murder of people under age 25 make up more than 50%. The Virginia Department of Education statistics on school violence showed that three of the top four incidents documented by schools involve violence or threats. A 2010 report by the National Center for Education Statistics reported that 80% of crime within Virginia’s schools was of a violent nature.
Nationally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted a decrease in teen violence since the 1990s, but still reported violence as the major cause of injuries among youth today.
Many share Johnson’s idea that community involvement can change
The National Crime Prevention Council introduced programs to reduce youth gang violence in four cities where police departments worked closely with community agencies and members to provide mentoring, job training and placement for youth, ages 12-18.
Oakland recently saw a decrease in its violent crime by 28%. The city attributes this change to “Operation Ceasefire,” a program that provides alternative lifestyles and resources former gang members.
In Chicago, the Urban Prep Academy boasted a 100% college acceptance rate amongst its graduates, most of whom were considered high risk youth. Tim King, the school’s founder, stated that dedication to building close, positive relationships with students is the key to its success.
Conversation locally began at this year’s forum on gang violence, focused on saving gang youth one-by one.
Dr. Michael Bane, a recent Hampton University graduate who spoke at the community day, had a simple message: “Don’t let anything hold you down.”
“You got people looking up to the wrong people.” said Bane, “They’re looking up to rappers, people going to jail, drug dealers.”
He maintains that community members have to step up as positive influences. Now, he takes on that responsibility.
“That’s my job,” he said. “I take pride in that.”
At the end of the day’s festivities, the bounce house is deflated, the last burger is grilled, and Mike Johnson, his crew and their children clean up.
But they are fulfilled.
“All the issues that we’re having is all going to start from us. We can’t change nothing until we change us,” said Johnson. “We can’t change what happens in Missouri, until we change what happens in Newport News, Virginia.”