Youth group invited to East St. Louis for camp against crime

Teens heard from the mayor and the coroner to learn about what the figures do and to reinforce the impact of crime issues in the region.

Image by Brad Neathery

Originally published on KSDK 5

EAST ST. LOUIS, Ill. — A group of young people on Saturday filled the middle of East St. Louis City Hall to learn how crime affects their age group and how they can intervene.

Teenagers from Kansas City and the Metro East were invited to Camp Choice’s Right to Life Summit, a two-day camp scheduled in the middle of National Crime Prevention Month.

The camp aims to “provide youth life enrichment experiences that benefit their present and future spiritual, physical, educational, and social wellbeing.”

Teenagers have been at the center of crime issues, including deadly shootings and burglaries across the region.

“As young people, we have to know, and knowledge is power,” said Lawson Small, one of the campers. “This is in our community, and since we know these things, we can take action towards them.”

15-year-old Small said he wanted to be a coder or designer and eventually own a business.

The young artist and some of his peers came in from Kansas City to join other youth.

One session was about epigenetics, the study of how your behaviors and environment can cause changes that affect the way your genes work.

“Us as African descent have trauma already embedded in our DNA, which also strains whenever we have children,” Small said.

“We are focused on structural family and community violence,” said Janay Reliford, founder of Camp Choice. “There is an epidemic of homicide and violence across the nation.”

Janay Reliford officially started this camp back in 2006.

On Saturday, she invited lecturers and moms from the St. Louis area who had lost sons to violence.

The weekend was to provide youth the skills and knowledge to de-escalate violence, whether at home, in their community or among their peers, by educating them on the root cause of violence. 

They also dove into how history has shaped the crime rates of today and what you and your family can do to prevent violence.

“We do adult life simulations for people; we’ve done survival camps,” Reliford added. “Each time we do these weekend camps, we try to bring a different theme. We’ve done human rights and responsibilities.”

The group also created vision boards and heard from influential figures like the mayor and coroner to let them know the crisis is critical.

“It’s important to have them here so young people see that they are concerned about what’s happening with youth,” Reliford said.

The camp will wrap up with the students creating advocacy plans that they can bring back to their own communities on Sunday.

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