FIVE TEENAGERS talk about living with violence and trying to do something about it. Ivan Brand says no one has the right to pull a gun on him. Bobbe Miller wants a safe environment for her baby nephew. La’Ban Wade gets ready for college. Dionte Williams reflects on loss. Jake Brand talks about the difference between a gang and a family.
These young people are part of Teens On Target or TNT, an after-school program based at East Oakland’s Castlemont High School. TNT trains students to teach violence prevention in the city’s middle schools.
“It is peer-to-peer education, and most people listen to their peers rather than adults who are just sitting there and telling them stuff,” said La’Ban, 17.
La’Ban, Bobbe, Dionte, and the brothers Ivan and Jake are all returning members of TNT, and are now part of its “Youth Board.” This means they spend extra time mentoring new members, and represent the group as public speakers.
“To hear youth speak about the community and how bad they want to change it is really important,” said Bianca Bonilla, the program coordinator. “They’re saying, ‘We’re here, we live in this community, you as adults have a responsibility to maintain the community and we are here to help.’”
Oakland is a young city—40 percent of the population is under 30—and violence is increasingly a problem that impacts young people. A recent city study of three years of homicides found that half the victims were between 12 and 24 years old.
Last year, there were 15 homicides within a quarter-mile of Castlemont High School, which has been reorganized into three smaller schools
and is now officially called the Castlemont Community of Small Schools. Four of the five members of the Youth Board have lost loved ones to gun violence.
“It is so important that there are resources in that high school so that these kids feel like they have another option other than what’s going on in their neighborhood,” said Bonilla.
One of the important options TNT offers the students who participate is employment. The program pays students a stipend for attending meetings and teaching. In many cases this is their first job, and it is an important line on a resume or a college application.
Since 1989, TNT has graduated over 800 peer educators.
“Some of my friends would be like, ‘Oh, it’s just a group that you get paid for.’ But you actually learn a lot from TNT,” said Ivan. “You have a choice. You can take the wrong road or the right road. There’s only two roads in the world to me.”