I mentor at West High School. Once a week, I sit with a senior, listening and encouraging her to finish her homework and get to classes, despite the challenges she faces in her life outside of school.
Last week was particularly difficult, not just for my mentee, but for many of the students at West. On Monday morning, Quentin William Smith was shot and killed in a firestorm of bullets as he was riding in a car with three other students. Severen Clayborn, sleeping on a couch in his home nearby, was killed by one of the stray bullets.
It seemed like everyone knew Smith, my mentee said, as well as the other boys in the car. The usually jovial mood in the school that day was somber and quiet. The school district brought in a crisis team to help the students deal with the grief – and with what feels like a daily stream of gun violence.
This past weekend brought more: three shootings in a 12-hour period on the other side of Columbus, including a domestic dispute, a burglary that escalated and an unsolved shooting at an after-hours hookah lounge.
We cannot forget that the people who have died by gun violence are not statistics. They were fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, people who shopped beside us in grocery stores and sat next to us at churches and mosques. And we cannot lose track of the loss these murders have left behind for the families and people in our neighborhoods.
As the Columbus Police Division is working diligently to solve these crimes, we are beginning to implement a Comprehensive Neighborhood Safety Plan. It includes initiatives not just from the police, but also from Columbus Public Health to understand the root causes of what leads to violence. We are focused on intervention, but also prevention. And everyone has a role to play.
About half of the homicides in our city have no suspects or motives. We need the community to step up and share information about these crimes.
Columbus City Council and City Attorney-elect Zach Klein are exploring options to regulate hookah lounges, where one of the violent encounters occurred over the weekend. We must ensure that these are safe places for enjoyment and not environments for crime.
Our responses are not just focused on the latest shootings. Over the weekend, police officers and community members went door-to-door at the Wedgewood Apartments, whose residents have been shaken by recent violence and crime. They talked to families about reporting crime, sharing information with police and strategies to help young people make good decisions. That face-to-face communication is an important step.
And so is mentoring. When I was at West High School last week, I saw young people looking for direction, for answers, for guidance. Mentoring gives students a touchpoint, a positive role model to keep them in school, but also help them avoid people and situations that may lead to violence.
Our teachers and administrators do this every day in their roles. But the community must step up, too.
There are many opportunities to mentor, whether through Columbus Public Schools, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Columbus Public Library or through your faith community.
If you don’t mentor already, sign up today. The youth you mentor are the future of Columbus. And they need each and every one of us to help them on their path.