McNary HS holds community outreach

It’s in your community more than you might think, and kids are at risk. Youth, and especially young men, have an increased chance of gang recruitment or activity, so Wednesday, June 7, McNary High School hosted a community outreach. 

The rise of gang activity is a growing concern the school has seen in the community. In response, McNary hosted its first ever community outreach and invited all Keizer elementary, middle, and high school families. The meeting had law enforcement partners, a panel of speakers and school officials. 

One of the first speakers during the event was Royal Harris, the founder of March Against Murder and a qualified mental health professional. Harris spoke on how impressional youth are and what makes them at an increased risk to be involved in gang activity. Additionally, Harris spoke from places of experience. 

“I know what it’s like to walk 100 feet with somebody and watch them die,” he said. 

Nelson Gonzalez, a community engagement specialist and another opening speaker during the event, also talked from past experiences related to gang activity. From the year 2021-2022 Gonzalez lost 10 kids he worked with to gang violence. He says this type of work is very close and dear to him. 

Gonzalez says it all starts at home, and how important it is to give kids a safe place to communicate and speak their mind. 

“To talk freely, to ask questions freely,” he said, “If we’re not doing this, someone else is.” 

That someone else being community gangs. 

Harris says that if we don’t teach youth emotional intelligence, conflict resolution and how to restore their humanity after something happens to them, a gang becomes the place where they feel heard for the first time. Unfortunately, the gang is also a place for dysfunctional stereotypes of manhood. 

Multiple speakers also spoke about the importance of kids feeling safe and comfortable to have conversations with their parents, especially young men talking to their fathers. 

“When young people don’t have this conversation now, they have to pay this time later,” Harris said. 

Harris advises parents to set standards and expectations with their kids, such as expecting greatness, but not greatness in things — greatness in character. 

Being more involved in a kid’s life was a topic preached by most speakers during the outreach. Parents were advised to be more curious and to ask their kids more questions about what’s going on in their lives, as well as knowing more about the people in their child’s lives. 

“As parents we should know our kids’ friends and our kids’ friends’ parents,” Harris said. 

Jay Prall, a detective with the Keizer Police Department says parents “have a right to know,” and should not be afraid to ask questions when your child goes to a friend’s house. He suggests talking to the friend’s parents, and asking questions such as who is at the house, and if there are weapons at the house. 

Harris also says to be mindful that kids aren’t like their parents, due to different times or circumstances. 

“Your kids don’t belong to you, you’re putting them together to set them free,” he said. 

Sonny Saltalamachia was the third speaker of the night and is a licensed professional counselor as well as the owner of HYB Counseling where they incorporate hip hop music to let young people express themselves. 

He preaches three main points when it comes to keeping youth from gang activity. 

The first is self-esteem. He says a lot of boys don’t know how to deal with self-esteem and people need to find a way to give kids that. 

Second is empathy, but also having empathy as adults towards kids who do get recruited into gangs. He feels as though people forget that at one point they were impressional young men. Saltalamachia preaches the importance of showing teens these skills. 

“If you don’t teach young kids to have empathy on themselves they can’t transfer empathy to the community,” he said. 

Lastly, accountability. He wants to remind parents that trauma doesn’t excuse accountability. 

Saltalamachia says one of the things young people do when they get involved with gangs is that they look for validation. One of the main ways they do this is through social media. 

“Love these kids through all their days like the first day they came into your life”

Royal Harris, founder March against murder

“Doing stuff in real life to validate themselves online, without any regard for what happens in real life,” he said. Saltalmachia states that phones with unfiltered access blow a hole in any protective barrier parents might have with their children. At the end of his speech Saltalmachia played a song made by one of the teens in his counseling program titled Broken Homes. 

Keizer Police Detective Carrie Andersen advises parents of signs to look for at home that relate to gang activity, such as a teen consistently choosing a certain color or clothing style, and any graffiti writings in school notebooks, rooms, etc. If there are any changes in a child’s friend group, sleeping patterns, or if they start staying up late and sneaking out. She also suggests seeing if the teen is withdrawing from their family or having issues at school. 

Andersen also tells parents what they can do in response. She suggests “IRespect and Protect”, a website based on Liberty House that has student and parent resources. She also suggests that parents have tracking apps on their devices to know their child’s location, as well as finding out any preferred apps or passwords their kid has. Additionally, parents should limit or suspend devices such as cellphones. Andersen also tells parents that it’s okay to go into their child’s room and to look around. 

Officer Cuahuctemoc Gomez with the Marion County Sheriff’s Office advised parents on what symbols, clothes and colors to look for. He also warned parents on the excuses some kids might have for wearing gang related styles, such as claiming it’s fashion. 

“Well that fashion is gonna get you killed or shot,” Gomez said. 

Symbols to look out for include a rosary, but if a person is wearing it around their neck. Count the beads on the rosary too, as they will most likely have 13 or 14 to represent what gang they’re affiliated with. Also look out for clothing that was worn back in the day but never went out of style, and if a person is wearing rags. If a person wants to represent their gang more subtly they might wear a Chicago Bears cap for Norteños or a Seattle Mariners cap for Sureños. 

Norteños and Sureños are two main groups of affiliated gangs, and they are also rivals. Norteños use the color red and the number 13 to represent them, and Sureños represent with the color blue and the number 14. 

Some Sureños gangs are: Brown Pride Tokers (BPT), Campos Locos (CL), Eastside Locos (ESL), Florencia 13 (F13), General Sureno, Hang Out Boyz (HOBZ), General Sureno (SS13), Southside Locos (SSL), Surenos’ Takin’ Over (STO), Mid City (MC), Playboy Surenos (PBS). 

Some Norteños gangs include: Norteno, Northside 14, Varrio Catorice (VC), Savage Block, Brown Pride Nortenos (BPN). 

There are also White Supremacist gangs such as: Insane Peckerwood Syndicate (IPS), European Kindred (EK), Irish Pride, West Side Mafia (Southern Oregon). 

Native American gangs include Indian Pride Organization (IPO), and some black gangs are the Bloods and Crips. 

Gomez says that kids not of the same race can still be recruited into different race gangs. 

At the end of the outreach, speakers sat down for a question and answer panel. Parents got to ask questions and have discussions with the panelist and the community. 

The event also provided two translators and translating devices for both Spanish and Marshallese. 

Panelists often spoke on the importance of building community when it comes to this kind of issue, and how at the end of the day love wins.

“Love these kids through all their days like the first day they came into your life,” Harris said.