Rising Gun Violence Topic of Youth Summit

Kevin Hunt of the Lessons Learned program speaks to youth attending the summit
Kevin Hunt of the Lessons Learned program speaks to youth attending the summit

City leaders, educators, and community advocates gathered today in Little Rock to urge young people not to give in to gun violence.

The Two Suits, No Choice Youth Summit was organized by Kevin Hunt of the nonprofit Inspiring Other People, which provides strategies for community-based interventions for youth through its Lessons Learned program.

Hundreds of young people attended the youth summit
Hundreds of young people attended the youth summit

As the summit got underway, Little Rock City Director Virgil Miller asked the sea of mostly young, black faces, "Are you from ages 1 to 19?"

As the children shook their heads, Miller noted a stark reality. "Your leading cause of the death is gun violence."

"We have youth out here now who are scared to go to school because they don't know what's going to happen. Scared to walk down some parts of the street because they don't know what's going to happen," Miller added.

"We have become so immune to this type of behavior that when violence happens, we just don't even pay attention. We just think it's normal. I'm here to tell you it's not normal. That's why I'm so glad that the city of Little Rock is a partner with this conference here today."

Little Rock City Director Virgil Miller
Little Rock City Director Virgil Miller

Miller told the children that they deserve better than what they've been getting and what they're being exposed to.

Little Rock City Director Antwan Phillips
Little Rock City Director Antwan Phillips

Antwan Phillips, a member of the Little Rock city council and an attorney, said he frequently receives inquiries from city residents about ways to support the youth in the community.

"One of the problems is we don't have mentors. And in addition to [needing] mentors, we need to understand what opportunities we are losing when we make the wrong decision," said Phillips.

Kevin Hunt then spoke to the children. "I've made many bad choices. I'm just fortunate enough to still be living."

At the age of 17, Hunt was incarcerated for a firearms-related offense. He had left school in the eighth grade to join a gang. He couldn't read or write and his family grappled with substance abuse issues.

Today, Hunt is a respected figure in the community, using his prior life experiences to inspire youth to pursue the correct course. He works in schools as a mentor and has even held a position in the governor's office.

"What I am going to do is be respectfully raw with you all so that you truly understand," said Hunt.

"I got shot a few times. I shot a few times. I ran from the police multiple times. I can't tell you how many times I threw guns out the windows to hide them."

Hunt referred to the 1994 HBO documentary Bangin' in the Rock about gangs in Little Rock. "I wasn't on there but my people were on there. That was my time."

The Two Suits, No Choice logo speaks to the unfortunate reality that many at-risk youth feel like they will end up in prison or in a coffin, not fully realizing there are other options for them.
The Two Suits, No Choice logo speaks to the unfortunate reality that many at-risk youth feel like they will end up in prison or in a coffin, not fully realizing there are other options for them.

Hunt spoke to the young crowd about the dangers of social media. He said the platform is being used to spark dangerous fights that sometimes turn deadly. He also spoke about the dangers of drill music, a subgenre of hip hop music that glorifies gang culture.

A mother whose son was a victim of gun violence spoke to the children about her son's killer. "He couldn't separate fantasy from reality. This music can sometimes turn an otherwise good guy into a bad guy. Kids are forced to do things they don't want to do."

News anchor Ashlei King of KLRT Fox 16 emcees the Youth Summit
News anchor Ashlei King of KLRT Fox 16 emcees the Youth Summit

News anchor Ashlei King of KLRT Fox 16 was the emcee for the event. She said she feels heart-broken reporting on gun violence so often. King is part of station's Victory Over Violence Campaign, which was launched in 2017 as an awareness campaign and commitment of news staff to cover crime responsibility. The initiative aims to unite community groups and leaders in Little Rock and be a resource for combating violence and reducing crime. 

Smart Justice is a magazine, podcast, and continuing news coverage from the nonprofit Restore Hope and covers the pursuit of better outcomes on justice system-related issues, such as child welfare, incarceration, and juvenile justice. Our coverage is solutions-oriented, focusing on the innovative ways in which communities are solving issues and the lessons that have been learned as a result of successes and challenges. 

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