December 11, 2017
I mentor at
West High School. Once a week, I sit with a senior, listening and encouraging
her to finish her homework and get to classes, despite the challenges she faces
in her life outside of school.
Last week was particularly
difficult, not just for my mentee, but for many of the students at West. On Monday
morning, Quentin William Smith was shot and killed in a firestorm of bullets as
he was riding in a car with three other students. Severen Clayborn, sleeping on
a couch in his home nearby, was killed by one of the stray bullets.
It seemed like everyone knew Smith,
my mentee said, as well as the other boys in the car. The usually jovial mood
in the school that day was somber and quiet. The school district brought in a
crisis team to help the students deal with the grief – and with what feels like
a daily stream of gun violence.
This past weekend brought more:
three shootings in a 12-hour period on the other side of Columbus, including a
domestic dispute, a burglary that escalated and an unsolved shooting at an
after-hours hookah lounge.
We cannot forget that the people who
have died by gun violence are not statistics. They were fathers and mothers,
sons and daughters, people who shopped beside us in grocery stores and sat next
to us at churches and mosques. And we cannot lose track of the loss these murders
have left behind for the families and people in our neighborhoods.
As the Columbus Police Division is
working diligently to solve these crimes, we are beginning to implement a Comprehensive Neighborhood Safety Plan. It includes initiatives not just
from the police, but also from Columbus Public Health to understand the root
causes of what leads to violence. We are focused on intervention, but also
prevention. And everyone has a role to play.
About half of the homicides in our
city have no suspects or motives. We need the community to step up and share
information about these crimes.
Columbus City Council and City
Attorney-elect Zach Klein are exploring options to regulate hookah lounges,
where one of the violent encounters occurred over the weekend. We must ensure
that these are safe places for enjoyment and not environments for crime.
Our responses are not just focused
on the latest shootings. Over the weekend, police officers and community
members went door-to-door at the Wedgewood Apartments, whose residents have
been shaken by recent violence and crime. They talked to families about
reporting crime, sharing information with police and strategies to help young
people make good decisions. That face-to-face communication is an important
And so is mentoring. When I was at
West High School last week, I saw young people looking for direction, for
answers, for guidance. Mentoring gives students a touchpoint, a positive role
model to keep them in school, but also help them avoid people and situations
that may lead to violence.
Our teachers and administrators do
this every day in their roles. But the community must step up, too.
There are many opportunities to
mentor, whether through Columbus Public Schools, Big Brothers Big
Sisters, Columbus Public
Library or through your faith community.
If you don’t mentor already, sign up
today. The youth you mentor are the future of Columbus. And they need each and
every one of us to help them on their path.