West Side young people, with the help of Austin resident Aisha Oliver, are developing a safety action plan for the community.
Last summer’s increase in gun violence, including the murder of 3-year-old Mekhi James, who was killed while riding in a car, inspired Oliver and the youth to take action.
“I felt like I had to do something. I’m not the type of person to wait for someone else to respond … Our kids should not have to live in a war zone,” Oliver said.
The Root2Fruit Youth Foundation founder invites young people into her home where she cooks for them and creates a dialogue about mental health and witnessing violence.
Oliver, who considers herself an advocate rather than an activist and been mentoring youth for over a decade, heard from her mentees that they were afraid to leave their homes and fearful of their neighborhood.
After getting input from the youth, Oliver and about 20 others started to come up with a plan to safeguard the community.
They know they couldn’t stop the violence completely, but they want to create a safe space for children and families to come together and do something positive.
In partnership with Austin Town Hall, the Austin Library, Forty Acres Fresh Market, Douglass High School, St. Martin Church, GlennArt Farm, The Field School, Renew 312 and other organizations in the area, they’ve created a one-mile safe zone for the summer.
It starts at North Central Avenue and West Lake Street, stretches over to North Waller Avenue and down to West Ohio Street.
Starting June 29th, on every Tuesday and Thursday from 2 to 7 p.m., which are peak hours for violence, West Side residents will have access to activities in arts and culture, fitness, dance, healing circles and sports, among other activities, in the safe zone.
On opening day, June 29th, there will be a block party.
Oliver’s son and youth ambassador, Lester Bradford, 19, said an Austin safety action plan is needed more than ever.
With COVID-19, racial tensions and an increase in violence, Austin needs to come together as a community to bring positivity; Bradford said bringing positivity to the neighborhood will help residents take on a positive mindset.
“Violence won’t solve our problems,” said Bradford, who credits his mom with helping him stay away from trouble.