Home Youth empowerment The conference aims to empower black and brown CT students

The conference aims to empower black and brown CT students

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NEW HAVEN — A conference for black and brown students at Hamden and New Haven Public Schools sought to empower them and prepare them for responsible and successful adulthood.

Nearly 200 middle school students attended workshops at Southern Connecticut State University led by professionals on various topics such as the impact of a criminal record, the transition to high school, planning for a future career, sexual responsibilities and respect for femininity.

Superintendent of Hamden Schools Gary Highsmith said Tuesday’s 2nd Annual Black and Brown Men’s Empowerment Conference was important for young people in the area to get information to make good decisions in their lives .

“A lot of times in school we have to focus on reading, writing, math, science,” Highsmith said. “But it’s also important to have life lessons. It’s good to be around other students, maybe they don’t know it.

One of the life lessons the students learned on Tuesday came from criminal defense attorney Michael Jefferson, founder of the Kiyama movement, who encouraged them to lead lives free of violence.

“Leave the guns alone,” Jefferson said after sharing the story of a young client who accidentally shot his friend and was charged with manslaughter and facing jail time. “Understanding what it means for a family to lose a loved one.”

Jefferson also shared the story of another young client who was sentenced to 18 years in prison after an accident in a stolen car that injured a mother and her newborn baby.

Almost all of the students had raised their hands when Jefferson asked them if they liked vacationing with family and friends, cooking, and celebrating birthdays.

“Do you get the picture?” Eighteen years is a long time, Jefferson said. “It’s been 18 Christmases and summers since you’ve been with your family.”

Jefferson encouraged students to unfollow their friends because “most friends don’t care about you the way you think they do.”

Highsmith said that for eighth graders, social media is the most concerning aspect of their lives as they try to get on in a world where they are online all the time. And, they just went through a pandemic.

“These students are navigating through COVID-19, navigating a world of technology, and trying to grow, all at the same time,” Highsmith said. “So there are significant challenges that negatively impact their decision-making.”

As to whether the participants were considered “at-risk” youth, Highsmith said he couldn’t say for sure, but everyone in society is “at some type of risk.”

Nilvio Perez, Director of Freshman Admissions at SCSU, encouraged students to pursue higher education to build generational wealth.

“The more school you go to, the more degrees you can get, statistically speaking, the higher your average annual income will be,” Perez said. “But not only that: earning an advanced degree gives you a lot of leverage so you can make changes in your home communities.”

Police officials have previously said there has been a noticeable increase in violent youth crime in recent years, particularly at gas stations and convenience stores near the Hamden-New Haven line.

In terms of gun violence, Hamden recently witnessed two shootings about 30 minutes apart less than two weeks ago, leaving nearby residents feeling unsafe. In New Haven, police continue to seize firearms while saying ghost guns have become “a real concern.”

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