Dr. Eddie Woods with Neighborhood House talks gun violence and ways his group hopes to help

06/05/2016 03:18 PM

LOUISVILLE — It takes a village to raise a child, but what if the village doesn’t know how?

In low-income areas like the West End of Louisville, kids and teens are likely to stay in a cycle of poverty and fall into cycles of violence. According to Dr. Eddie Woods, the director of youth development at Neighborhood House, teaching peace, particularly during the summer months, is crucial to breaking those cycles. That is where Neighborhood House steps in, not only providing programs for youth, but for everyone in the community.

“What we do here that’s different as well is we teach the village how to raise the child. As opposed to just saying it takes a village to raise a child, we teach the village how to do it,” Woods says.

Part of the youth programming at Neighborhood House serves kids from age 6 to 18 years old and includes building positive relationships, field trips and appropriate encounters with law enforcement.

At time when the nation is seeing escalated tensions between law enforcement and minorities having positive interactions with members of the police force is important, particularly in lower-income areas.

“A lot of times, particularly with folks from lower-income areas, which a lot of times means slow or low social development, so things you don’t understand you tend to strike out at it or view it as an attack,” Woods said. “So what we try to do is to let folks understand, particularly young people understand, that when you’re talking about a person who is trying to do a job, get home at the end of the day like anybody else, so you have to operate within in the spirit of cooperation.”

That misunderstanding isn’t one-sided though. There is a fear factor that exists on both sides, and as Woods explains, this is due to the very nature of law enforcement.

“The nature of how we use law enforcement, law enforcement comes when a situation is either underway or over,” he said “Very rarely is it proactive.”

Programs that help diffuse that fear and foster understanding are important, even more so during the summer months where kids are more likely to have encounters with law enforcement, Woods said.

Violence tends to escalate during the summer months, and Woods says he doesn’t see that trend diminishing anytime soon, adding that the availability of firearms may help perpetuate the problem.

“We’ve got way too many guns available in our society,” Woods said. “When I go to a school or talk to a group of kids and I ask the question who in the room can get a gun if you want one or if you think you need one, and almost all of them raise their hand. I don’t care what part of town it’s in or what county it’s in, what state it’s in, that’s pretty much the case.”

Guns are hot political topic, and Woods says he believes “that whole political thing with regards to guns has gone to a total extreme.”

“We haven’t taught humanities in forever,” he said. “We don’t teach anybody how to get along with another person.”

However, he isn’t concerned with the NRA or adults with legal firearms. The problem, Woods says, is when a kid has easy access to weapons, can carry them without anyone knowing.

The problem might be far beyond fixing though. Woods says at this point, it’s important to teach kids about the hazards of using firearms to deal with situations.

“When you enter into a confrontation or a conflict and you use something with the level of finality that a gun has, then you’ve stepped into a whole another arena. You’ve gone beyond being a kid,” Woods said.

When there is a lack of supervision, the chances a kid will fall into violence increase, so creating environments where there is that supervision is crucial, he said. But beyond that, teaching adults, who may have grown up in a culture of violence themselves, how to provide guidance and supervision to kids is also vital to making positive change in a community, he said.

Not valuing education is also a contributing factor to kids falling into cycles of violence.

“Ongoing lack of valuing education, at every level, and valuing equal education tends to be a problem because if you just allow a person to go through your system, from K through 4th grade lets say, and doing that going through they don’t learn to read, that’s criminal,” said Woods, noting that the Neighborhood House incorporates reading and writing programs.

While these issues seem isolated to the West End of Louisville, Woods says other communities and counties should not turn a blind eye.

“Peace is everybody’s concern,” Woods said. “We’re not going to make a difference in the levels of violence we have in our communities, gun violence or otherwise, until everybody gets mad. We’ve got to get mad the same way we did with cancer, with smoking, with drunk driving. Everybody got mad, so we started to impact the numbers.

“It’s the same way we’ve got to do with this violence thing. You can’t treat it like it’s an over there problem. It’s our problem.”

Watch the full interview with Woods below:


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