‘Guns Down’ youth summit aims for less talk, more action

Dora Jones X Mentoring Young AdultsSubmitted photo
Dora Jones (third from right) with MYA youth from Boys 2 Men Initiative

Dora Jones, executive director of Mentoring Young Adults (MYA), has seen more death and pain come from the barrel of a gun than she can stand.

In April, her niece was killed. “Her ex-boyfriend shot her eight times in front of her kids and killed her — she was only 27.” Jones also said she was shot when she was 17 years old. “I know so many people who have lost their families to gun violence.

“Too many of our young people are being killed at the hands of gun violence,” said Jones, whose St. Paul-based MYA provides mentorship services for young adults, ages 13 to 25, around employment, housing, education, leadership development, employment, and community engagement.

That’s why she is hosting the first-ever “Guns Down Saint Paul Youth Summit” on Saturday, Nov. 10 to bring together community leaders, families and youth to address the issue.

“The purpose is to bring awareness to gun violence in our city, to really get the young people in the door so we can begin to start penetrating their train of thought and get them to change the way they think about themselves, community, and someone else that they’re standing in front of in case they [want to] pull a trigger.”

Gun violence isn’t new or isolated. In St. Paul alone, gun violence has claimed the lives of at least 10 people this year. In addition, 126 people have been shot — 95  of them were Black. Just last Friday, St. Paul police reported two separate shooting incidents that included at least 15 shots fired outside of a bar and one man shot inside of a strip club.

While Jones has been engaged in building relationships to address her concerns, she has become fed up with just talking about the problem.

“I’ve been sitting at different tables with the City, with Ramsey County Attorney’s Office and the police department and all we’re doing is inviting community leaders out to these meetings to talk about gun violence. I need action items,” she said, frustrated by the prospect of more meetings. “So, I said, you know what? Forget sitting in these meetings anymore. I’m about to do something about it.”

To that end, Jones has launched a city- and county-wide effort, teaming with many of the same people she’s been sitting at the tables with, including the Ramsey County sheriff and attorney offices, as well as the Saint Paul Police Department. But this time, she said, she’s focused on creating a plan and a report to impact real change.

The day-long event will feature motivational keynotes by Jason Sole, director of Saint Paul Community First-Public Safety, and Kasim Abdur Razzaq, author of 5 Essential Principles for Healing Black Men and Raising Black Boys.

Ramsey County Attorney John Choi and Saint Paul Police Deputy Chief Paul Iovino will also be on hand to share how the County and City are already working together to stop gun violence.

“We really want to bring this issue up and out loud to people that have the power to make change happen around gun [violence],” said Jones. This includes breakout sessions led by facilitators focusing on healing and trauma, parenting, mental health, and creating solutions that extend beyond the day.

“We’re going to be asking for ideas from the young people, as well as parents,” she said. “We’re going to be actually taking those ideas and compounding them into a report, and we’re going to hand that report to our mayor, Ramsey County attorney, St. Paul Police Department and all the people who can make changes around this gun violence.”

Jones added that both Ramsey County Boys Totem Town and the Juvenile Detention Center will also bring youth that have dealt with gun violence to provide real-life testimonies.

She has also teamed with High School for Recording Arts founder and CEO David (TC) Ellis. For Ellis, it was a no-brainer for him to not only provide the meeting space but also involve his students.

“We have had a lot of students and people in the community who have been victims of gun violence and are motivated to do something to stop that,” said Ellis. “I thought this was a good chance for the community to come together with the police around something positive.”

The event has also empowered students to assist with programming and promoting the event.

“We have a great group of young people called Individuals With Dreams (IWD), and they have been amazing at putting together the graphics and getting the word out to the young people,” Ellis said. The IWD team is comprised of young Black men from the school and community who meet at the school around issues of economic and community impact.

“They are really are impressive about how they are trying to change the narrative around what a young Black man is,” he said, “and I think with their support and leadership we can get the word out to the young kids.”

Jones hopes to fill the room with at least 250 people on Saturday. “We just want to get the youth in the door. If we can get them in the door, it gives us opportunities to change their train of thought and their thinking process.”

To help sweeten the deal for youth to come out on a Saturday morning, Jones will provide the first 50 youth to walk through the door — and the first 25 parents of teens — with a free $50 gift card. All attendees will also receive a free “Guns Down St. Paul” shirt.

HRSA students will also give performances and short skits highlighting alternatives to gun violence.

“It’s our job as leaders to keep them engaged and keep them interested in the conversations that we’re having,” Jones added.

Ellis is also excited about the potential for changing how youth view and are viewed in creating change. “Kids want to be safe. They want to be in a safe space, and gun violence really interrupts that.

“I really hope this will help create a new narrative around the community and young people and expectations that using guns and violence isn’t the appropriate problem-solving tool,” he said. “I am hoping this is the beginning of truly turning the tide of looking at innovative ways to do something better.”

The Guns Down Saint Paul Youth Summit takes place Saturday, Nov. 10, 8 am – 3:30 pm at the High School for Recording Arts located at 1166 University Ave. West in St. Paul. Breakfast and lunch will also be provided. The event is free and open to the public.

For more information, contact Dora Jones at dorajones@saintpaulmya.org or 651-222-7721.