It’s hard to use “festival” and “suicide” in the same sentence.
Yet a suicide was the catalyst for a festival of sorts in Morristown on Saturday.
Our Youth, Their Future had hot dogs and hamburgers, music and a basketball tournament at the Cauldwell Playground.
It was meant as a celebration of life, and the power of community. The idea was to show teens there are alternatives to despair, from people who care.
Nobody will ever know what, if anything, could have prevented a teenager formerly from Morristown from taking his life this summer.
But every kid who attended Saturday’s event now should know that help is available from programs at Morris County Human Services, Fresh Start, the Empowerment Institute, Friendship House, the Traumatic Loss Coalition and the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office, to name some of the organizations that showed up.
As you will see in this short video, kids heard expressions of support from people like Yasin Cobb, a minister at Calvary Baptist Church who knows first-hand about the corrosive influence of peer pressure. He ran with the wrong crowd in younger days, and told the audience that he got shot and served jail time. There are better options, he said.
Tonya Hopson, an attorney who got a scholarship from the Morristown Neighborhood House, said good careers await those with courage and commitment.
Councilwoman Raline Smith-Reid challenged parents to take responsibility for their children, and not to defend them blindly when they get reports about misbehavior.
Mayor Tim Dougherty invited kids to visit him at town hall whenever they have an issue.
“A lot of people are doing great work. But it’s in silos. We need to put it all together,” said Patrick Fennell, founder of the Empowerment Institute in Montville. Its mission includes mentoring underprivileged youths, many of whom come from single-parent households that are “one paycheck away from disaster,” Patrick said.
“Young men need mentoring, they need to have a sense of hope,” said Sean Lewis, who works with Yasin Cobb and Jeff London in a program called Fresh Start. Sean and Jeff said they clashed with the law when they were teens in part because they lacked a father figure to guide them.
“There’s a difference between hardened criminals and guys who just go along, guys who are following,” said Jeff. Fresh Start offers mentoring for the latter group, he said.
Youths from Morristown’s Manahan Village never have to venture far for a dose of tough love. Our Youth, Their Future was organized by some strong women who are not afraid to drag kids off the basketball court when it’s time for serious communication.
Malissa Osborne-Hairston demonstrated that on Saturday. She and co-organizers Donna Howard, Sharon Randolph, Toshiba Foster, Dorothy Holman and Acquanetta King realize that the future of Morristown’s kids is too important to leave to chance.
Did Saturday’s message get through?
Samari Robinson, 12, and Daniel Pierre, 13, seemed to be paying attention.
“When you fall down, get up, dust yourself off. Never give up,” Samari summarized.
Daniel called the speakers “inspiring.” His take: “If you mess up the the past, you can always fix it in the future. Never give up. Always work hard in school.”
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