The scene of a deadly mass shooting at an Airbnb party in Pittsburgh’s Deutschtown neighborhood (Pittsburgh City Paper photo).
By Jordana Rosenfeld
PITTSBURGH — While overall crime rates have steadily declined in Pennslyvania and nationwide over the past three decades, a recently released report says the number of firearm-related violent crimes remains “significant.” In Pittsburgh, recent gun violence has consumed local headlines.
So far this year, 40 people have died in gun homicides, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, including 11 people under 20 years old, two of whom died last month after a mass shooting at a party in a North Side Airbnb. This week, 17-year-old Isaiah Dennis Anderson was fatally shot in Allentown.
In late 2021, after reviewing the findings and recommendations of the March 2020 report from the Special Council on Gun Violence, Pa., Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration announced that more than $11 million worth of grants would go to 20 Allegheny County organizations for gun violence intervention and prevention programs.
While violence intervention programs, such as local grantees South Pittsburgh Peacemakers and the Healthy Village Learning Institute, aim to identify and de-escalate specific conflicts that may lead to violence, prevention programs, especially those targeting young people, tend to take a more holistic approach.
The local groups who received funding took a variety of approaches to providing positive support, as advocates say that both a higher saturation and greater variety of youth programs are needed in the region in order to effectively prevent gun violence.
Pittsburgh City Paper spoke with two local grantees, both of whom are using the state money to create new prevention programs for teens, to discuss their approach to violence prevention and how the programs and their participants continue to weather the dozens of shootings so far this year.
The power of music
There are many factors that contribute to youth violence, but youth development experts agree that young people do better when they have “family support and monitoring; caring adults; positive peer groups; strong sense of self, self-esteem, and future aspirations; and engagement in school and community activities.”
Lori Rue, who describes herself as “a preventionist from way back,” told City Paper in a phone interview that “the more [programming] we have, especially if it’s community-based, the better it is.”
Rue, the director of development and support services for Legacy Arts Project, said that it’s important to have many different kinds of youth programs, since, “Everyone’s not gonna go to a Boys and Girls Club, everyone’s not gonna be a Boy Scout, everyone’s not going to, you know, want to sit down with a counselor and talk. We just have to have things that appeal to different types of kids.”
Rue played a central role in developing and securing state funding for one of the city’s newest violence prevention programs for teens, Drums Not Guns. It’s an apprenticeship program from Legacy Arts Project, a Black arts organization located in Homewood that’s focused on youth and African-centered programming.
Drums Not Guns offers Black teen boys an opportunity to learn African drumming, a craft that can be “very aggressive and energetic and expressive,” in a community shaped by “best practices for youth development,” according to Rue.
Drumming is a great outlet for both kinetic and creative energy, Rue said, and the programming that frames the drumming focuses on “who they are and where they come from,” with three outcomes in mind: I create, I am, and we connect.
“The drumming brings them to the table, it gives them that outlet, but then the youth development component is what is helping to build those behaviors and those attitudes that we want them to take on,” she added. “And, you know, help them come to understand there’s alternatives to violence and to picking up a gun.”
Drums Not Guns also has an apprenticeship component. “One of the things that we are doing in our youth programming is saying, ‘Hey, guess what? Art can be a career. And if you want to explore that, we have some opportunities for you,’” Rue said.
The program’s participants train under Fodé Camara, whom Rue said is one of the few master drummers in the area.
“We’re hoping to build that next generation of drummers that would be here to support the different African-centered art organizations” in Pittsburgh, Rue said.
Their first cohort was a collaboration with Brashear High School, which, Rue said, has a significant number of students who emigrated here from African countries. So far, 46 young men ave gone through the program, Rue added.
“They keep showing up because they want to be there,” she said, “not because they have to be there.”
Rue said she’s glad that Drums Not Guns has “something to offer” as communities all over the county grieve incidents of gun violence.
She said Legacy Arts is looking forward to expanding the program this summer, and it’s not too late for Black high school-aged boys to get involved in Drums Not Guns’ summer programming.
Leading by example
Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.