In response to the recent tragedy in Hilltop, Seeds of Peace (SOP) hosted a Healing Circle at the Tacoma Urban Performing Arts Center to provide young people a space to process the loss of a child through violence, discuss safe spaces, and come up with solutions on how to improve their community. SOP invited adults in the community to listen to the concerns of students.

Safe Spaces

Given the local and national uptick in gun violence, Tacoma youth are calling for more safe spaces to counteract the fear and increase mentorship between caring adults and youth. In demonstration of their high expectations of safe spaces, youth leaders kicked off the event by sharing group expectations and several devices intended to facilitate a respectful, comfortable evening. Hover over the photos below to learn about each.

“We’re here to work together to discover the best ways to create safe spaces and opportunities for youth,” said Siry, who graduated from Lincoln this year and co-facilitated the Healing Circle.

Ideally, in these spaces all youth, particularly youth of color, would feel safe, heard, respected, and accepted. Caring adults would be present and invested, and mental, emotional, and physical safety would be carefully considered. 

“If something is going on for me, do I have a caring adult to talk to? Fortunately, since middle school I’ve always had at least one caring adult outside my home to talk to. Safe space is just knowing where to go,” said Tina, a rising sophomore at the University of Washington.

Gun Policy

To combat feelings of helplessness surrounding gun violence in the United States, youth discussed why they think it’s such a prevalent issue and whether they believe a balance can be struck regarding gun ownership in this country.

“People might think that it’s not our issue to care for because we’re just youth and we don’t have legislative power. That’s why we’re here,” said Chloe, a rising senior at Bellarmine Prep. 

Youth agreed that a lack of understanding around gun policy, the unwillingness of polarized political parties to compromise, and one-sided information silos created by social media all play a role in the current gun violence crisis. 

Their solutions: vote, educate, communicate.

“I think middle ground is a hard concept because it implies that there is a sense of satisfaction between all parties. What we’re facing is more of an issue of what people are willing and not willing to compromise on,” said Heaven, who graduated from SAMI this year. “How are we establishing lines of communication between people who think differently than us?”

“If we work on educating ourselves and educating our peers, especially younger generations, we could actually change some things up,” said Day, who graduated from SOTA this year. 

As Day spoke, she was interrupted by an alert on her phone announcing an active shooter investigation in the nearby Hilltop neighborhood. The notification was a timely reminder of the constant threat of gun violence that students contend with each day.

Shortcomings and Future Work in Tacoma

Youth discussed areas where Tacoma had failed to foster community and kept coming back to the disorganization and competition they see amongst local organizations.

“I don’t think there is a lack of resources, because there are so many resources, but how do you unite community partners together to [reach] the students who need it?” said Tina.

Youth would like to see resource fairs and healing circles at low-income high schools, more caring adults in more safe spaces, and targeted outreach by organizations to ensure vulnerable communities have access to resources and support. They want more leadership and mentorship opportunities, better accountability and transparency from decision makers, and for Tacoma to be highlighted in a more positive light. 

This summer, SOP is activating a variety of projects to amplify youth voice and build a more youth centered community. Youth and young adults ages 14 to 25 are invited to register for any of the projects below here. Tag SOP and use #YouthCentered and #Greentrike to join the conversation on social media.