WORCESTER – Outside the Worcester Youth Center on Saturday, a group of girls were holding signs and waving to motorists along Chandler Street.
Outside the old Capitol Toys store that became a community hub for young people from across town, volunteers held a barrel grill full of burgers, and even more young people came out, taking cell phone photos and setting things up. .
Inside, barbers ran clippers through a few heads near pool tables; a game of chess wouldn’t be put off by the crowd, and one young boy took a stand as another entered the aisle, dribbling a basketball around the scrum crowd. In an adjoining hall, COVID-19 vaccines were available.
After a difficult year, everyone was back at the youth center, but it was with a wider purpose on Saturday – the launch of the campaign against gun violence Violence is not normal in collaboration with the Department of State Public Health and the Massachusetts Cultural Council.
Fourteen-year-old Abrianna Tingle, just after her freshman year at South High Community School, said she was happy to be at the youth center on Saturday to promote violence prevention and that she was happy to see a good participation in the afternoon “Peace” event. She was helping other young people on Saturday and collecting pledges against violence.
She said she got involved with the youth center about a year ago; she said she struggled with mental health issues, and coming to the center helped her overcome some of these issues, and she learned to appreciate the community atmosphere.
Sam Martin, director of the youth center, said the problem of gun violence among young people is not unique to Worcester – it is a problem across the country. He said the partnership with the statewide push allows the youth center to do its part to address violence in the community.
Martin said the Violence Is Not Normal campaign aims to shatter the perception that violence is just part of the fabric of life.
“Last year we had a listening session with young people and one of the things they said was, ‘This is the way it is,’” said Martin.
Saturday’s event included live musical performances and poetry readings, and Ernie Floyd and his Unity Radio production included young people involved in his new radio training initiative that began this month at the center.
Mayor Joseph M. Petty, District 1 City Councilor Sean Rose, State Representatives David LeBoeuf and Mary Keefe, and District 5 City Council Candidate Etel Haxhiaj made brief remarks at the event. .
Petty said he was happy to attend; he said the youth center helps lay the foundation for municipal anti-violence programs to build on.
By working together, he said, the center and the city are able to reach a larger group of young people.