Blog NKCDC My Voice Matters: youth to offer suggestions for community safety

We CAN, a community safety partnership of three Kensington and Fairhill nonprofits, invites the public to attend the presentation of My Voice Matters, a four-month policing and community safety study conducted through innovative dialogue sessions with Kensington and Fairhill youth. The presentation will be held Tuesday, June 15 from 6:00 to 7:30 p.m., outside at Orinoka Civic House, 2771 Ruth Street, Philadelphia.

Since February, the We CAN collaborative has convened two-hour My Voice Matters workshops for Kensington and Fairhill youth to talk about about safety and the role police play in their community. The workshops, designed and facilitated by Philadelphia’s Creative Praxis, focused on developing recommendations by and for young people aged 14-24 to improve safety in their neighborhoods.

“If our initiatives and programs are not created with the people affected by them, they simply will not be sustainable,” said Cass Green, the We CAN program manager. “It’s our responsibility to let our youth and young adults know their voices do matter and that we can create safe spaces to hear them. How we currently build relationships with youth don’t always make them feel welcome at the table.”

Six workshops, ranging in length from individual two-hour sessions to a four-part series, took place on Zoom. A total of 20 youth attended. Creative Praxis opened each session with a password and set of agreements that promoted courageous sharing and nonverbal affirmation. Sessions were recorded for data collection, but no identifying information was collected or shared. 

“Because we were doing the workshops virtually, we could come together with youth far and wide who had connections to Fairhill and Kensington” Green said, “even if they were in New Jersey or the suburbs, or attending college in Florida.”

“Many young people arrived with astute critiques and were eager to express themselves, and in the four-part workshop series, trust and creativity grew with each session,” said Stasia Monteiro, Director of the NAC Program at HACE, who observed the sessions.

For the four-part series, Creative Praxis mailed activity kits that included wellness-centered craft supplies, affirmation cards, and puzzle pieces. In guided activities with the materials, youth and young adults presented their leading safety concerns—including drug activity, homelessness, gun violence, and lack of investment in education—identified root causes of those problems, and planned ways to showcase their recommendations for making safer neighborhoods. 

“One thing that stuck out to me was everyone brought similar suggestions and recommendations,” Green said. “For instance, they all said police should be more integrated into the neighborhoods they serve. One participant said police should be required to do a residency like doctors.”

“Right now young people in Kensington are traumatized, concerned, and ready to lead,” Green said. “If we want youth to become the next leaders who inform community policing interventions, we need to invest deeper in relationships with youth now.”

“Our hope is that community and police officers will incorporate the recommendations of young people on an individual, cultural, and institutional level so that all people in Kensington and Fairhill can experience safety,” said Creative Praxis founder Nia Eubanks-Dixon.

We CAN is an interagency partnership funded by the U.S. Department of Justice. Since 2018, three local nonprofits—NKCDCHACE and Impact Services—have been working with community partners and the 24th District Philadelphia Police to build trust, eliminate crime, and advocate for the Fairhill and Kensington communities. The collaborative is supported by researchers at Rutgers-Camden.

“I think we all agree My Voice Matters can’t be a one-and-done event,” Green said. ”How do we change our culture where this is a norm—people respecting the voice of our youth, people talking with them and not just at them.”

We CAN envisions a safe and unified neighborhood where residents work together to build trust, eliminate crime, and advocate for their community.