Trying to Build a Peaceful 'Village'

By Clarence Williams
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 11, 2006

In the game room of the Turkey Thicket Recreation Center, about 40 teenage girls gathered not for air hockey or to shoot pool, but to discuss why they beat on each other.

A sheet of paper taped to the wall gave simple answers to a difficult question: "Why do girls join gangs or crews?"

The responses were listed in black ink: among them, the need for protection, peer pressure and the search for popularity.

Finding solutions to the problem of girls joining gangs and other issues facing District teens, male and female, was the focus of "Rebuilding the Village," a series of events last week designed to create a dialogue between adults and youth over the problems that plague the city's children.

For seven days beginning May 1, there were daily themes, such as Inter Generational Day to connect teenagers and senior citizens, or Mentor a Child Day. On Saturday, dozens of children marched through Northeast neighborhoods to meet up with their Maryland counterparts and pledged to end violence across the city's border.

The programs were kicked off by the "Save Our Sisters" forum at Turkey Thicket in Brookland, a program designed to address girl-gang violence, teen pregnancy, HIV and drug abuse.

Ronald Moten of the D.C. nonprofit group Peaceoholics said he views the week's program as the beginning of efforts with city youth, not as one-time events. "After all this work, I'm not even tired because I'm energized from the kids," Moten said.

Some of that energy came from a Saturday evening fashion show, where girls and guys strutted with sultry steps on the University of the District of Columbia's auditorium stage. During the show, called "Peace on the Runway," teen models primped and posed for an audience of about 300 parents and teenagers from at least six schools in the District and Maryland. It was an expression of styling for peace.

Girls shook their shoulders and rear ends and spun on high heels alongside boys in tattered jeans, while the crowd screamed and danced. "I think it's bringing together a lot of positive people," said Tori Campbell, 17, moments before her Eastern High School group performed. "I think if they had more activities like this it would help keep people off the street."

Moten said plans are already working to do just that. Leaders of several girl gangs have agreed to recruit their members to organize a "lock-in" retreat so the groups can learn more about each other and peacefully settle their differences. Peaceoholics also plans monthly meetings along with other organizations and the D.C. Youth Advisory Council to continue the dialogue, Moten said.

D.C. Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) sat down front at the fashion show and said rebuilding the village was necessary because of the destruction drugs have caused in the community and the failure of adults to guide today's youth.

"Our village has been basically destroyed," Barry said. "Everything starts with the first step. And this is that first step."

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