April 25–29, 2022 is National Youth Violence Prevention Week. Affirming YOUth is commemorating this occasion by disseminating information and resources to raise awareness about effective strategies for preventing youth violence and making schools and neighborhoods safer. As a current Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Awardee, we have had the distinct honor of initiating community-based strategies to address youth violence, including gang violence.
Youth firearm violence and injury is a significant public health concern in urban communities, as youth are frequently the victims of neighborhood violence (Cooley-Strickland et al., 2009). Between 2018 and 2019, 13% of homicides occurred among youth aged 10-19 years in the US (Center for Disease Control, 2020). Firearm homicide remains a significant problem among young Black males in the United States in metropolitan areas and is increasingly common in less populous and nonmetropolitan areas (Kegler et al., 2022). The high rates of homicides among racial and ethnic minority youths are likely due to stressors associated with living in under-resourced communities (Nation et al., 2021).
Marginalization and social disadvantage for marginalized groups result from a lack of access to resources and privileges. It is not your race or ethnic origin that disenfranchises you; it is the lack of access that disadvantages vulnerable populations, particularly minoritized populations, and places them at a greater risk of social vulnerability due to poverty, race, a lack of social support, personal circumstances, and access to resources. This is why my doctoral dissertation examines the Social and Structural Determinants of Health operating within Liberty City neighborhoods and their implications for economic stability, educational access and quality, and neighborhood and built environments.
Your health has an effect on your socioeconomic status. Your socioeconomic status influences your behavior. For instance, substandard housing conditions may exacerbate stress in low-income families due to exposure to community violence, noise pollution from police sirens, and other sources, resulting in missed school days and sleep deprivation. When a parent is sleep-deprived, he or she may apply harsher discipline and speak harshly to their child. Stricter discipline and harsher tones result in negative childhood experiences for children, which may increase their risk of developing posttraumatic stress disorder and other mental health problems. Excessive stress may also make parents more likely to use illegal substances as a coping mechanism. These behaviors may have a cascading effect of victimization and violence. According to research, marginalized communities experience a higher rate of firearm-related violence.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Affirming Youth Community Collaborative, a coalition of over thirty community-based organizations dedicated to preventing gang and gun violence, and the Urban League of Greater Miami are concentrating their efforts on health and equity; previously, they concentrated on health and disparities; however, we have come to recognize that inequity is the primary mechanism by which firearm-related violence is victimized and perpetrated.
As is the case with many public health concerns, an ecological lens is critical for comprehending the myriad elements affecting health and health inequities at all levels of society (World Health Organization, 2018). The ecological framework takes into account the dynamic interaction of individual, interpersonal, community, and social issues, including policy (CDC, 2021). The ecological framework contributes to our understanding of how risk and protective variables operate at several levels, including the person, the family, the community, the structural, and the population level (Bronfenbrenner, 1994). Taking an ecological view understands that the influences and systems at each level, such as education, health care, economics, and law, all have a substantial impact on firearm-related violence victimization and persecutory behavior.
To gain a better understanding of how firearm-related violence operates within the social ecology, we must include the perspectives of those who are oppressed, disenfranchised, victimized, or who perpetuate firearm-related violence as a result of socioeconomic and structural factors. Like a malignant tumor, structural oppression spreads throughout systems at all levels; it metastasizes both biological (epigenetics) and political (gerrymandering), contributing to personal (e.g., substance misuse, mental health disorders), social dysfunction (e.g., firearm-related violence victimization and perpetration, rioting), and structural characteristics of the neighborhood (e.g., poverty, adverse cultural adaptations, and disinvestment).
As we celebrate Youth Violence Prevention Week, it is my hope that you have gained a better understanding of the problem and solution landscape for the healthy development of all youth.