Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Fighting gangs in the Caribbean

Youth workers travel to bring help

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It's a program for at-risk youth that's headed from West Broadway to a tropical Caribbean island. Two technical instructors with the Broadway Neighbourhood Centre (BNC) are flying to St. Kitts later this month to teach people there about the local video and music-making program Just TV.

Addison Sandy, 38, and Paul James, 46, are headed to the eastern Caribbean for 10 days later this month to work with Operation Future, an organization that teaches kids about the threats of drugs, crime and violence in St. Kitts and its neighbouring island, Nevis.

The trip was the result of a visit by former RCMP officer and criminal lawyer Dan MacMullin to the Broadway Neighbourhood Centre (BNC) two years ago. MacMullin lives in Nevis and said "an invasion of the American-style street gang" has had a "devastating impact" on the islands.

"The issue of the gang culture is youth... looking for family, security, sense of recognition and acceptance," said MacMullin.

"Unfortunately, by the time most realize they were sold a false bill of goods, it is too late and they are (steeped) in a truly dysfunctional and dangerous lifestyle."

The federation of St. Kitts and Nevis has about 50,000 residents.

According to the St. Kitts and Nevis Observer newspaper, there were 27 homicides in St. Kitts in 2011 and six in Nevis.

The Observer said "the majority of victims were young men and most of the murders were unofficially attributed to gang violence."

Just TV works with teens and young adults 16 to 24 years old from across Winnipeg. It tries to take kids away from risks, such as joining gangs or getting involved in crime, through making music and videos.

Sandy and James will be doing a workshop with youth in St. Kitts, and also training staff.

The program in St. Kitts will be called the Creative Youth Academy.

MacMullin said the programming he witnessed at the BNC gave youth "everything they were looking for in the gang culture, but in a positive and safe environment." He said he's "very excited" about help from the BNC establishing the program there.

"What we're trying to do is give them a voice," said Laura Johnson, project manager for Just TV, who said the program gives kids an outlet to talk about what's happened to them and a "place to go."

"For a youth who might not want to talk about their experiences in care or how they felt when their friend died, they might not be so vocal about it, (but) they'll talk about it in a rap song, because that's socially acceptable to their peer group," she said.

Participants in Winnipeg have also faced battles -- one participant was pepper-sprayed outside the BNC in broad daylight.

No gang colours are allowed.

"We've had kids that might be born into families that are in gangs, where it's not even a choice, or their families might be involved in criminal activities," said Johnson. "Or, they just come from a single-parent home where Mom is trying really hard to put food on the table and she cannot be around, she can't be present, because it's survival."

More information on Operation Future is available at: www.sknoperationfuture.com .

It will be run from the Johnson Village Community Centre in St. Kitts.

"Given my background as a police officer and experiences as a lawyer, I am not a fan of the arrest-and-jail approach," said MacMullin. He said he also doesn't identify as a "bleeding heart."

"... Early intervention is by far the best approach. It is far easier to keep a child out of a gang than it is to bring him out once in, or raise him from the dead when he's gunned down. I am of the persuasion that crime and violence is the symptom of the problem, not the problem itself."

gabrielle.giroday@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 12, 2013 A1

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