By Alexa Epitropoulos | [email protected]
Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., visited Alexandria on Monday to take part in a roundtable discussion concerning gang violence in Northern Virginia.
Kaine made his visit as the 2018 federal budget makes its way through Congress that could impact the operating budgets of law enforcement, schools and nonprofits working to fight gang violence. He joined Mayor Allison Silberberg, as well as officials from Alexandria City Public Schools, Alexandria Police Department, Alexandria Recreation, Parks & Cultural Amenities, Fairfax County Public Schools and the Fairfax Police Department at the roundtable meeting.
“I don’t think we’re happy with the progress we’re making,” Kaine said at the beginning of the meeting before opening the floor to those gathered.
Officials had varying perspectives on the threat of gang violence and how to combat it in the City of Alexandria, Fairfax County and across Northern Virginia.
David Wynne, a social worker at the International Academy at T.C. Williams High School, said change comes through meaningful interaction between adults and youth that are at risk of joining gangs.
“There is no magic program,” Wynne said. “It starts with adults spending quality time with kids.”
Other officials pointed to after-school programs, weekend soccer games and mentoring and tutoring programs.
Mac Slover, regional program director in the city’s recreation services office, said the city’s parks and recreational spaces are trying to “bridge the gap” between school and home by providing a place for students to go when they’re not in class.
Michael Johnson, who works with the city’s Parks and Recreation department, said it’s also important to keep prices for events low to better accommodate students who, otherwise, might start hanging out with the wrong crowd.
“We have a hole that we’ve opened up by pricing some of these people out,” Johnson said.
A student from the International Academy at T.C. Williams and resident of Chirilagua, Kevin*, offered solutions to the roundtable on incentivizing at-risk students, like him, to not join gangs.
“Most of them feel like they don’t belong in the community. They find love or friendship in gangs,” Kevin said.
Kevin also indicated that division between the races at high schools like T.C. Williams pushes students, particularly new arrivals to the U.S., to join gangs. Although he initially went down that path, he said strong interaction with teachers at the International Academy and advisors who made him think about the future pulled him out.
“They saw the potential. It made me ask myself ‘what are you doing with your life?’” Kevin said. “It made me think about what I wanted from my life.”
*Kevin asked that his last name not be identified