Columbia Organizations Combat Violence

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COLUMBIA - The Youth Empowerment Zone is one of several local organizations that say they are working to counteract the recent string of youth violence in Columbia. The organization began in 2004 and works with troubled youth to teach life skills as well as find employment. Executive Director Lorenzo Lawson said the organization is able to help troubled youth because it builds relationships with them.

"We don't want to promise any kid anything that we can't deliver. They have been let down too many time in their lives," Lawson said.

This is why the Youth Empowerment Zone tries to keep the number of youth it works with low.

"We keep the numbers down so we can keep the quality up," Lawson said.

Lawson said young people are referred to the Youth Empowerment Zone by the school system, juvenile justice system, and other young people. He emphasizes the importance of youth voluntarily opening up to the organization for it to be successful.

"We empower you to be whatever you want to be, but the bottom line is you've got to do it. And we're not going to make you do it, but if you've got the desire than we can help you," Lawson said.

Jonathan Lowe of the Columbia Community Non-Violence Initiative (CCNVI) also said it is crucial for Columbia's youth to open up to these programs. Lowe has helped organize a "Silence the Violence" movement, which has split into several committees including: activities, youth, parenting, and others.

Lowe said the youth committee includes several young Columbians, but he said it will be much more successful if more youth become involved.

"We want the community to feel a part of this," Lowe said.

He said the best way for the community to do this is by going to CCNVI's Facebook page and giving their input. "Silence the Violence" is also organizing "meet and greets" this summer, where Columbians can enjoy socializing, food, and show support for the movement. More information on the movement itself and the "meet and greets" can be found on their Facebook page.