Youth on the Overtown Community Oversight Board organized the session to encourage young people to steer clear of criminal activity.
“The young people on our board really wanted to do something in response to the rash of violent crimes that have been taking place in Overtown and Liberty City. They began having conversations and this is the result,” said Terrence Cribbs-Lorrant, a board member.
The Overtown Community Redevelopment Agency and Kicks on Wheels sponsored the conference that included workshops facilitated by the Miami police department and UHealth, a service provider’s information room, food, a mini-concert and a fashion show.
A Life Maze depicted a series of real-life scenarios such as domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse, gang violence and initiation, drunk driving, rape, unsafe sex, a courtroom, trial, death and a funeral.
University of Miami students Haley Gordon and Kristy Sessions built the Life Maze to get teens to think about their actions and decisions.
“It’s a universal teenage experience to be affected by violence, whether directly or indirectly. So we wanted to give the kids a way to experience all of the bad decisions they could make and see what the consequences were in hopes that they will apply it to their lives right now,” said Gordon, a 20-year-old junior who is studying psychology.
After going through the maze, teens were sent into a debriefing room to talk about their experience.
“It was a very interesting experience that opened my eyes to a lot of things,” said Lamar Davis, 13.
“It motivated me to choose my friends wisely and stay out of trouble,” said the Jose De Diego Middle School seventh grader.
Tikira Turner, 15, a sophomore at Barbara Goleman High School, said she originally went to the conference to drop off her younger brother, but stayed for the entire day.
“I think that most teenagers are going through the types of things they had in the maze and I think it was very helpful,” Tikira said.
After completing the workshops and going through the Life Maze, teens were treated to music by LaGuardia, Sekajipo, Shifta, Final Second and DJ Brimstone.
LaGuardia and Sekajipo are both members of the group PATH to Life, which uses hip hop and pop culture to educate, motivate and inspire youth.
“We are constantly looking for ways to stay in touch with the community and since we’re all about anti-violence, doing an event like this is a no-brainer. We call it edutainment,” LaGuardia said.
“I think it’s important for youth to know there are hip-hop artists out there who actually care about the community and promote non-violence as opposed to what they hear on mainstream radio,” Sekajipo said. “It also helps us remember why we do music in the first place,” he added.
Though the event had a small turnout, Cribbs-Lorrant said he was proud of the youth that planned it.
“I’m just so proud of them because they are the ones who did the work. They submitted the proposal for funding; they built the maze; they came up with the concept; they are the ones who wanted to tell their peers to ‘chill’ with the violence,” Cribbs-Lorrant said.
He hopes that those who attended will take what they learned and pass it along.
“I want every one who attended to leave here knowing there is a necessary conversation that needs to be had with the youth regarding how violence and criminal activity will affect them and then I want them to have it,” Cribbs-Lorrant said.