Earlier this week a small diverse group of people gathered in a public library auditorium — and though the differences in age, gender, and cultural backgrounds were apparent, the purpose in being present was all the same.
Apparent concern: for the youth, for the growing trend of violence, for everyone’s safety, for the community-at-large was the theme of the event! For me, attendance was necessary because I support my husband, my life mate — Thomas Sapp Jr. — whenever I am able to do so. My plan for that evening was to
attend a church function, but God saw otherwise. (God always knows what’s best for me.)
The Victim’s Impact Panel, a well-thought out, and much needed event organized by S.T.R.O.N.G Youth, Inc. provided a voice for many of society’s cast aways — young people who are either gang involved, supervised on some level by a criminal justice entity, or just in need of some guidance that would deter them from straying too far to the left. Also in this setting were adults who represented a cross section of the community: social workers, spiritual figures, academic personnel, a member of a law enforcement agency, a nurse from a correctional facility, a parent who lost his child, and a formerly incarcerated gentleman who served a long sentence for a murder he committed much earlier in his life.
This wasn’t a forum where fingers were pointed, or where horrid labels replaced names, but one where it was evident that deep rooted pain had been experienced in the lives of most in attendance. What made this forum special to me were two unexpected surprises! Mentioned earlier was the fact that I am supportive of my husband. He suffered a tragic loss only a few short years ago when his 19 year old son, Kareem was gunned down — ironically, not far from where this event was taking place. Unexpectedly, Valerie McFadden and Thomas were called upon by S.T.R.O.N.G. Youth‘s founder, Sergio Argueta to address the audience.
Mrs. McFadden, an educator/parent/wife/social worker/dedicated community advocate has devoted her time to making a massive display which memorializes young people, like Kareem who have lost their lives in such a senseless fashion, on Long Island and the surrounding areas. She spoke of this passionate, yet heartbreaking display, which has been featured in news articles, and contains photos, gang artifacts, media clippings of hundreds of young lives that could have held such potential but were ended too soon. Thomas shared the story — as I have heard him do so many times before — of Kareem’s murder, and of knowing who had committed the act on the same day on which it occurred. He speaks so charismatically of making an acknowledgement that the lives of two families were forever impacted by one
deliberate act. The two families were — not solely Kareem’s loved ones, but also the family of the young man who pulled the trigger. Those families are irreparably damaged and must heal as best as they can, through the pain.
Hearing Thomas relive this tragedy each time churns my own emotions, and challenges me to do more in the community. I, too am a parent of a young male and can never fathom the torment that each passing day without Kareem that Thomas or Tina (Kareem’s mom) must endure. The Kareem D. Sapp Foundation was formed to honor the memory of a handsome young man, who as described by his loved ones was thoughtful, considerate, a budding self-taught auto mechanic who was on the trail to piecing his future together at the time of his death.
The Foundation has played host to a number of positive events, often pairing mainstream entertainment with youth advocates and community leaders to drive home the mission of anti-violence.
Personally, I have made it my best practice not to publicly disclose my full time role in law enforcement because of the stigma that society has placed on the profession. However, I felt compelled to do so on this particular evening. In attendance were two young people that I have worked with during my course of business. In fact, one young man, Devaughn had been referred to S.T.R.O.N.G. Youth Inc. by me for programmatic guidance. Seeing him at the forum was overwhelming because I received such positive feedback from the staff about his evolution in the short time that he has participated in the program. I chose to speak up and introduce the tireless work I do in my profession, which is aimed to help individuals returning from incarceration find the tools necessary to become productive members of society. I also spoke about my pride for the positive adjustment the program has made in Devaughn’s life. After speaking, this young man ran over to where I was standing and embraced me. I could have melted with pride!
The Victim’s Impact Panel will meet monthly in this same venue — until the need for a larger setting becomes an issue. Mr. Argueta’s challenge to everyone in attendance was to return in February with one additional young person, and one older individual. The message is clear, and the community needs to fully involve themselves because violence may not be your problem today, but one never knows what tomorrow shall bring!
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