DENVER — On Monday, the first day of National Youth Violence Prevention Week, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock kicked off a panel to discuss how the city is tackling youth violence in the community.
“Youth violence is real. Most importantly, it’s preventable,” Hancock said.
Denver City Attorney Kristin Bronson called youth violence a “public health crisis.”
Last summer, Angel Shabazz’s 17-year-old son Davarie Armstrong was shot and killed at a house party in Montbello. She remembers falling to her knees when she got a call from her son’s best friend.
“Mrs. Angel, Mrs. Angel, Davari has been shot,” Shabazz recalled.
Armstrong was a football player at South High School in Denver. He had dreams of becoming a pro-football player or a firefighter. He was slated to graduate in 2021. Dozens of students laid flowers to rest in his honor on the steps on South High School.
“He was a scholar, an athlete, a leader,” Shabazz said.
In 2019, Denver launched a Youth Violence Prevention Action Table to develop a public health approach to prevent youth violence. In 2021, the city hired Jonathon McMillian as the Youth Violence Prevention Program coordinator.
“Youth violence is more than just gun violence, it’s more than just community violence. It’s also self-harm, including suicide, alcohol, tobacco and substance misuse and relationship violence,” McMillian said.
McMillian is responsible for implementing recommendations laid out in the organization's comprehensive plan. During the panel, McMillian highlighted changes, including the expansion in youth violence program grants.
So far, nearly two dozen organizations have applied for funding. In 2020, McMillian pointed to a spike in crime following the Black Lives Matter protest. He says they turned to pop-up events to reach out to teens that proved to be successful in Sacramento, California.
“We saw an immediate reduction in the number of violent acts that were happened after those pop-up events,” McMillian said.
He says this year more funding has been made available to host more pop-up events. The city also purchased a building, which will be used as a youth empowerment center. The center is expected to open in early 2022.
The Youth Violence Prevention Action Table’s mission is to reduce and prevent youth violence through education.
“Denver has partnered with community and youth over the last year and a half to develop a comprehensive plan for violence prevention,” Bronson said.
“It’s a start for sure, but I think we also have to hit the pavement. I think we also need to talk to single moms like myself,” Shabazz said.
Mayor Hancock says one death among teens is one too many.
The city of Denver has also partnered with Aurora to tackle youth crime.
Shabazz launched the DJ Armstrong foundation, a scholarship program, in honor of her son to help young teens fulfill their dreams. She hopes through volunteer work and sharing her son’s story, teens will think twice before picking up a gun and pulling the trigger.
“When you lose somebody, this is forever," Shabazz said. "Picking up a gun to takes someone’s life is not temporary.”