Teens take the lead in new campaign against violence

By Marissa Lang
Globe Correspondent / June 16, 2010

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Shanikwa Bush, 18, said she has seen friends killed and incarcerated. She has watched her eight younger siblings grow up in neighborhoods plagued by gangs and guns.

Those experiences drove her to get involved with the city of Boston’s latest teen-violence awareness and prevention campaign, “B1 Example: Redefine Street Cred,’’ a program that help teenagers to urge their peers to lead lives free of violence.

“The other day one of my friends came to me and told me, ‘I felt like I was going to do something stupid, but when I thought about doing it, you flashed in my mind,’ ’’ said Bush, who lives in Dorchester. “He said he felt like he was going against me and going against our friendship, so he didn’t go through with it. It touched me, knowing that I could touch someone without even being there.’’

Today, Mayor Thomas M. Menino will officially launch the campaign, which consists of posters on MBTA buses and elsewhere in the city, the use of social media networks, and public-service announcements on television and before movies. It begins amid a flurry of youth violence, including the fatal shooting of two 14-year-olds, which have caused outrage across the city.

Menino said in an interview yesterday that the ad campaign is just one part of a push to combat violence. Other programs that engage “the tougher kids,’’ those already caught up in gangs, are also in the works, Menino said. Police officers and ministers have been canvassing communities since the recent killings. But this campaign is unique in its approach, he said.

“This is not just some adults who aren’t really in touch with what’s going on,’’ Menino said. “This will help [teenagers] see that there are other options for their lives.’’

Bush was one of the first to get involved with the campaign, which is funded by private donations. She and other participants, ages 16 to 18, created messages in a variety of media that urge young people to earn respect by living lives free of violence.

By yesterday, a Facebook page for the campaign had garnered about 1,100 fans. Already, one of the teenagers helping to lead the campaign has generated a lively online debate by posing the question: “Is there any circumstance that using violence would be right?’’

“They have a much deeper understanding of the connections between all the kinds of violence than we, as adults or professionals, tend to think about it,’’ said Dr. Barbara Ferrer, executive director of the Boston Public Health Commission, which helped direct the project. “They’ve got a ton of talent and really great ideas.’’

The campaign uses B messages encouraging teenagers to “B Smart’’ and “B You.’’

A team of about 30 young people will be dispatched to the city’s most affected neighborhoods to promote the campaign to their peers.

City officials said that entrusting the entire campaign to teenagers was a gamble, but that it has paid off.

“Usually, we go to a high-priced ad agency and say, ‘Put together a campaign on antiviolence,’ ’’ Menino said. “It just impressed me how these kids, when you give them the opportunity, they rise to the challenge.’’

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