Columbia guidance counselor addresses violence with youth

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COLUMBIA - After six people were fatally shot in September, one Columbia guidance counselor realized a vulnerable population was not being addressed: kids.

Battle High School’s Director of Counseling Leigh Spece organized an event at Daniel Boone Regional Library Monday evening, focusing on how adults can speak about violence with Columbia’s youth. She called it “Stop the Violence: CoMo Care and Share.”

Spence said she was inspired to lead the event after seeing “outrage” on Facebook.

“I had my fingers on the keyboard ready to type: “where’s the leadership in our community?” she said. “I felt very embarrassed that I thought it needed to be somebody else’s role to begin to talk about it.”

The initial event was small but still attracted a variety of community members — from fellow educators to religious leaders. Spence also asked two Battle seniors to speak about their grief after the tragedies in the community.

Imani Mitchell said Nadria Wright, who was shot and killed on September 13th, was her close friend.

“She was the most outgoing person I ever knew,” she said.

By not talking about the tragedy, Mitchell noticed her mental health decline.

“We [students] had no intention of talking to anybody,” she said. “We just cried. We acted like nothing happened and just went on about our days.”

Mitchell's classmate, Jen'niah Thorton, lives on Rice Road. It was the location of a double homicide last month. Thorton said she no longer feels safe in her neighborhood.

"It’s stressful, witnessing or hearing gunshots around our community," she said. "Everything changed. I don’t feel safe going outside at night because of the shooting."

Spence said she will continue to organize Stop the Violence meetings in the hopes that parents and educators can “engage students in genuine conversation.” Some tips for speaking with your child about the recent violence are telling them the truth, asking them how they are feeling and avoiding words that evoke fear.