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'Out of Chaos' summit offers outreach to Allegheny Co. teens in communities mired with gun violence

A group of teens in orange t-shirts.
Sarah Boden
90.5 WESA
Some 350 Allegheny County teens attended the Out of Chaos symposium to discuss gun violence prevention.

Some 350 Allegheny County teens participated in the Out of Chaos symposium on the University of Pittsburgh campus Thursday. It was the second annual event designed to address and ultimately deter gun violence.

There were 122 homicides last year in Allegheny County, according to data from the county medical examiner’s office. A third of the victims were aged 24 or younger, and 84% of all victims were Black.

Gun violence is so pervasive in some Pittsburgh-area communities that kids say it can be hard for young people to imagine a different reality. Therefore, topics at Out of Chaos focused on both processing the trauma of this violence, as well as setting professional and educational goals.

“Young people cannot live in a state of trauma all the time. We want them to dream. We want them to feel optimistic. We want them to think about their future,” said Dennis Floyd Jones, the executive director of Youth Enrichment Services, which organized the symposium.

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The organization partnered with the University of Pittsburgh, Jones explained, because it’s important for local youth to know they belong on the prestigious campus. By instilling self-worth and showing kids different pathways to success, the hope is to produce better outcomes, which is why the gun violence-prevention symposium had sessions on robotics research, entrepreneurship and nutrition.

Fox Chapel Area High School student Gabrille said the most important thing she learned was how to apply for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. The 17-year-old plans to become a nurse.

“A lot of kids, they kind of revert to what they are around, which is like the streets,” she said. “So if you tell them about their opportunities and stuff like that, they’re more interested. And they’ll probably be more likely to not participate in the streets because they know about other opportunities.”

The day concluded with a ride on the Gateway Clipper, and then on Friday, about 100 kids will return to the Pitt campus to develop a plan to address gun violence and find ways they can individually prevent violence.

Sarah Boden covers health and science for 90.5 WESA. Before coming to Pittsburgh in November 2017, she was a reporter for Iowa Public Radio. As a contributor to the NPR-Kaiser Health News Member Station Reporting Project on Health Care in the States, Sarah's print and audio reporting frequently appears on NPR and KFF Health News.