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Officials say interrupting violence is essential to build a brighter future for Rochester students

speakers at arc of jesus church
Noelle E. C. Evans
Community leaders speak at the Arc of Jesus Church

Rochester City School District leaders and community activists met with the U.S. Attorney for Western New York on Friday as part of the “Each One Reach One” campaign to help students on their path to higher education.

Part of that work is focused on anti-violence initiatives. The U.S. Attorney for Western New York, Trini Ross, says these efforts need to be cohesive to be successful at disrupting the ongoing cycle of violence affecting city residents and their families.

“I think there's a role for school districts, law enforcement, community activists,” Ross said. “I think there's a role for every segment of society to come together to better serve our youth.”

The fact is, getting to college and having a future means surviving past your childhood years ⁠— and some Rochester city students are not granted that privilege. Just last month, 17-year-old student Bryson Simpson was shot and killed after stepping off a school bus.

At least five city schools, including elementary schools, are in hotspots for gun violence, according to data from the NY state Gun Involved Violence Initiative.

Last year, 81 people were shot and killed in the city of Rochester. Many others have had their lives interrupted by shootings, whether from losing a loved one or losing any sense of safety.

“Our kids are not excluded or living in a bubble from the violence. Oftentimes, it's people that they are intimately familiar with, sometimes their own family members, or extended family members, or neighbors,” said RCSD school board vice president Beatriz LeBron.

Disrupting violence on the streets also requires taking steps within schools, and addressing not just guns, but gangs, she said.

"(Students) are not excluded from the acts of violence, unfortunately,” LeBron said. “There's gangs in our schools, but there's gangs in our schools because there's gangs in the city.”

LeBron proposed using American Rescue Plan or CARES Act funding to build a Pathways to Peace program within the district with at least 2 workers assigned to each secondary school, and one assigned to each primary school. Instead of police officers, she'd rather see community members take on those roles.

Victor Saunders, the mayor's advisor on Violence Prevention Programs, said the city school district recently received funding for 11 Pathways to Peace workers to operate in their schools.

“We're excited about that prospect,” Saunders said. “As well as doing some dispute mediation work directly with the district.”

Ross said the importance of after school programs, addressing family needs, and finding ways to reach children at any part of their day, cannot be overlooked either.

”If we have sports programs, if we have activities outside of school, that's part of it. We have the educators in the schools, that's part of it. We have the families, and that's part of it” she said. “So what I'm trying to do is to show that it's not just one segment of a youth’s life, it's all of it.”

Noelle E. C. Evans is an education reporter/producer with a background in documentary filmmaking and education.