It ignited a noisy debate about all-ages clubs, gangs and Tacoma’s downtown night life. Nothing much came of all that talk.
It also sparked a more thoughtful response in the Greater Tacoma Community Foundation’s offices, one block south and 12 stories above the site of the tragedy.
The foundation leaders listened before they spoke or acted.
That approach is paying off now in a pair of initiatives called Youth Against Violence and Be The Spark.
On May 13, Be The Spark will bring Archbishop Desmond Tutu to the Tacoma Dome in the last event on his farewell speaking tour. We will keep you updated on that event as it approaches.
This Sunday, the foundation is inaugurating Be The Spark by inviting everyone – including you – to an event called Pierce County Sings.
At 1:30 p.m. at Stadium Bowl, they’ll film the final sequences of a music video featuring local artists performing John Legend’s “If You’re Out There.”
“It’s a call to action,” said Rose Lincoln Hamilton, the foundation’s president and CEO.
She’d like to see 5,000 people show up to sing, share hot cocoa and get to know each other. She’d be over the moon with 10,000.
Come represent your school, your work, your church, your choir, your favorite place to volunteer, shop or eat. Advance knowledge of the lyrics and tune is not required.
Come representing your commitment to making this a place where young people have the tools to climb out of bad situations and into a peaceful, productive life.
Building that community is Be The Spark’s aim.
As building blocks, it’s using the information it developed through Youth Against Violence.
After the Brick City shooting, the foundation staff had a gut reaction: They were grown-ups with grant money, so they wanted to fix everything.
They had the good sense to realize they didn’t know where to begin, or how to do it.
They called together a group of professionals to examine the causes of youth violence and the resources to fight it. That’s when they realized they’d left out the real experts: young people.
They corrected that oversight with four community youth dialogues in 2009, from which they gleaned “Four Truths.”
• “Youth are the experts on youth and are ready to lead.”
• “In every encounter, move from stereotype to story.”
• “Each of us plays a role in creating peace.”
• “Arts are a tool for social change and a direct alternative to violence.”
Tanajah Mims, 19, is the foundation’s Youth Against Violence coordinator, as well as the face of the Four Truths – a reminder to her older colleagues to keep them in mind.
Mims knew the right song to bring people together for the music video.
She suggested it, then waited patiently while the older adults worked their way though a list of the usual suspects.
“All the songs we picked were lame,” Lincoln admitted. “This one is a call to action.”
“Every time I listened to it, I felt a little bad because I wasn’t doing enough,” Mims said. “It made me re-evaluate my role in the community.”
She’s in line with the song now, coordinating the Sunday event.
Next she’ll work with students from Pacific Lutheran University and University of Puget Sound to host high school dialogues at Lincoln, Foss and Washington high schools. They’ll write a report to the community on the findings.
She will work with the foundation’s Youth Philanthropy Board as it measures the success of existing programs.
Setting up a system that ties funding to accountability has worked with social services. Now Greater Tacoma Community Foundation will apply it to the broader field of youth programs. It is raising a $5 million endowment and will spend $250,000 a year on the most effective anti-violence efforts.
That will be an annual investment in peace and the young people who deserve it. It will be the right response to that awful night five summers ago outside Brick City.
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