Halima Begum recalls the dreadful day her father was grazed by a bullet while walking on Dearing on the city’s east side.
The 16-year-old said she lived in fear after the incident which happened a few years ago down the block from her family’s home.
“We were upset because stuff like this happens a lot in this area,” said the junior at Cass Technical High School.
Begum decided she wanted to do something about the violence that terrorizes her community.
On Tuesday, she asked her fellow Detroiters to rally around the 13th annual “Hugs, Not Bullets” campaign.
The initiative, sponsored by the Neighborhood Service Organization’s Youth Initiatives Project, denounces celebratory gunfire during the New Years Eve holiday and looks to prevent gun violence throughout the year in Detroit.
It’s led by youngsters from the youth project who host anti-violence events such as National Night Out and gun buyback programs. They also work with neighborhood cops to distribute gun locks and yard signs supporting their campaign.
Youth leaders gathered Tuesday with Police Chief James Craig and other city officials to kick off another year of “Hugs, Not Bullets” at the Detroit Public Safety Headquarters.
“It’s important to get the youth involved because we are the ones that need to be heard right now,” said Begum, a peer educator for the youth project. “We are trying all we can to prevent them from doing what the adults are doing right now.”
Frank McGhee, director of of the youth project, said the community has supported “Hugs, Not Bullets” every year. Some 7,000 children have attended the various events, he said.
“It is very well-liked,” he said. “Whenever you have a gang member wearing your shirt ... people are very much more open to looking at solutions to this.”
There are about 125 youth leaders from a handful of schools in the city including the Osborn academies, Durfee Elementary-Middle School and Mason Academy, McGhee said.
The youth group is an effort by local youth to stop gun violence and substance abuse in the community. Youth leaders are trained to plan activities that promote well-being and success.