The City has given millions to local anti-violence groups for young people but they say more is needed
Collage of photos of people in the article

Both Zerqa Abid and Sean Stevenson say they need more funding to curb increasing youth violence

Hilltop hero Zerqa Abid, who has dedicated her life to helping thousands of young people on the Westside, is threatening a hunger strike if the City does not take more action to curb increasing violence by young people.

Last Friday, following three homicides over two days of young people in the Hilltop, Abid and the Hilltop Youth Social Justice Collaborative held an emergency press conference.

“There are 10,000 children at risk in our neighborhood,” said Abid, founder and director of My Project USA. “We cannot just be patiently waiting on the promises and talk we’ve been given for a year.”

But the City has given millions since 2021. This May, $16 million in funding was announced for summer youth programs, with $8 million of this allocation going to anti-youth violence programs.

But many are asking, is it enough? What’s more, they ask, who’s getting the money and is their advocacy effective?

The pandemic's fallout has seen the west side of Columbus become deluged with drugs and guns, and easy access to both. Consider, for example, how the last remaining tenant at the derelict Westland Mall is a gun bazaar or “The Gun Show” where private sellers are not legally obligated to run federal background checks on buyers.

Abid told the Free Press she has solutions to help keep Westside youth away from drugs, guns, gangs, and all the false promises and twisted glorification this so-called “culture” can bring.

She’s asking, for example, to create more youth centers in the Hilltop and Westgate, which would be open at night to keep young people busy during peak crime hours.

From Hague Avenue to Georgesville Road – which includes the massive and crime-ridden Wedgewood apartment community – there’s no safe space for kids to hang out, she says. Yet My Project USA knows of one nearby turnkey Columbus City School building not being fully utilized that could be converted into a youth center, says Abid.  

“We need proper indoor facilities and operation money to run recreational and academic programs for youth. This building has all the potential to turn into a good building for a community youth center,” she says. “We’ve been asking for this for years. The Mayor says ‘I don’t control this.’ Well, let’s sit down and look at what you do control.”

After Abid said she may go on a hunger strike, Mayor Ginther said the City has given Abid’s My Project USA $700,000. She says this is true, but spread out over the previous seven years, and for different projects, such as improving her new building on Sullivant Avenue.

Abid believes more money is the answer. She says many local anti-violence advocates are underpaid and this is turning potential advocates away.

Recently another local anti-violence group, Halt Violence, had posted a job opening seeking mentors who would be risking their safety, attending the funerals of victims, and the like, but the job is only offering $15/hour.

“Money is the answer in many, many ways,” says Abid. “Because money will give us more ability to buy more good food, give us more space, to rent more space, to run good programs, and to be able to support these kids who come from very, very poor families. We will be able rent or have our own building where 24/7 we can run our programs. I’d rather have children in my center at 11 pm at night rather than on the street and doing something they shouldn’t be doing.”

Besides more money, Abid is also asking the City for more transparency on who’s getting what, and what exactly are they doing to make a difference.

Other anti-violence activists said what the community is trying to do is obviously not working, and that more money may not be the panacea.

De-Escalate Ohio’s Cynthia Brown told the Free Press she will soon demand City Council pass a resolution urging Governor DeWine to declare a “State of Emergency on Childhood Trauma in the state of Ohio,” something both Cincinnati and Lorain recently passed.

After lengthy research by De-Escalate Ohio and with help from trauma activist Ronald Hummons from Cincinnati, they came to the conclusion that 400,000 to 500,000 children in Ohio have reported one or more adverse childhood experiences. Such as experiencing violence in the home, being a victim of violence, or living with someone with mental illness or suffering from drug addiction.

“In my opinion, youth crimes are spreading worse than stage 4 cancers. I believe these young offenders are looking for help, they are crying out for attention. Rehabilitation? Has proven doesn’t work,” says Brown.

Brown believes young adults – those who are reformed – should be helping young offenders.

“We need more Gen- Z to step up and reach the percentage of youth offenders who have lost their way,” she said.

Sean Stevenson, a reformed citizen, started End The Violence in 2009 and has been trying to “squash beef” ever since. His focus is more Eastside, and he puts young people to work – picking up trash, construction, and helping where they can. 

Stevenson offered a tragic example of what happens when End The Violence runs short on funding to keep marginalized young people busy during volatile times.

Back in early May, 21-year-old Raquan Thomas was fatally shot in east Columbus. Stevenson sent the Free Press pictures (see above) of the four local youths who confessed to the robbery and shooting of Thomas.

These same young people – ages 19 to 20 – were working for Stevenson before the homicide (see above). But he was unable to keep them working due to a lack of funding.

“This is what happens when the money runs out,” he said to the Free Press. “When they are not working, they get into trouble.”

Stevenson says these are the young people the community needs to somehow reach – the “shooters.” The moniker urban gangs use to describe those willing to take someone out and shoot anyone who gets in their way.

He asks, “If we’re not hiring shooters and gang members, how can we curb the violence? That’s the biggest issue. I’m comfortable working with them and speaking to them.”

He continues, “These are the young people we should be targeting and creating jobs for. Then they won’t be out harming other people. It’s always about money, but people don’t go after them to give them jobs and create other avenues.”

One challenge for Stevenson is convincing the “shooters” that “street mentors” are not aligned with Columbus police.

“First of all, if you do this work, you don’t involve the police,” said Stevenson. “I can’t even tell you the number of people I’ve helped [over the past year]. I work at night. You have to be out here two, three in the morning. I don’t get a day off. I don’t take vacations.”

Here is Halt Violence’s job opening posted on their Facebook page. In some ways the post is a fascinating look at what it is going to take to end the heartbreak. And unfortunately, the job only pays $15/hour:

WE ARE HIRING!!!!!!!!!!!!

Street Mentor (Equal opportunity Employment)

Our Mission – We Squash beef and save lives.

Squashing beef is done by a team that understands the situations that lead to violence in the hoods. Street Mentors enter the hoods and engage with youth and young adults at the corner stores, the communities of violence, or at Halt Violence.

Upon building relationships or having them, we squash beef by working with those individuals that are shot callers in their communities. They let us know if a situation can be disputed or not. They let us know if they were involved in a situation and why.

Individuals also let us know when they’re involved in a violent situation to kill that rumor to avoid unnecessary beef. When this is done, we are helping in the highest way by preventing individuals from being shot in their communities or the victim of shootings in their communities. This is done by letting individuals know they got an agency that got there back. Halt Violence gives its WORD that everything we do with individuals, don’t go nowhere! Once our word is established, we have a bond, and the process begins to save lives from the horrendous cycle of violence that traumatizes families and entire hoods.

Responsibilities of a Street Mentor:

Must have passion for black urban community.

Must be able to relate to the teens and young adults.

Must have driver’s license, a vehicle and proof of insurance.

Engage in the hot spots of violence in the community that you have relationships with or willing to establish when its violence outside of the area of your influence to promote peace.

Attend funerals of victims to gun violence to ensure peace.

Attend vigils of victims of gun violence to ensure peace.

Dispelling rumors so unnecessary violence won’t occur to the wrong gangs, individuals or neighborhoods.

Shift reports are due by 12 pm the following day, no exceptions.

Identifying the need to squash beef with black teens and young adults to prevent murders, shootings and fights.

Facilitating immediate mediation.

Maintaining peace through funeral services when applicable.

Must emphasize the importance of balance and personal maintenance. Individuals must learn skills to help keep a healthy lifestyle.

Teach the importance of engaging in meaningful recreational activities and hobbies, positive and effective use of free time, and facilitating stress management.

Through mentoring participants, you must teach moral decision-making skills and the importance of character. In addition, encourage social awareness through community service projects.

Individuals must instruct the importance of communicating thoroughly and effectively with others, including family members and members of the black urban community.

So much violence is done from the lack of interpersonal skills. Communication is the key to any relationship. Some violence, relationships on the job or in families, can be resolved through talking to one another regardless of the vulnerability. We must push our clients through the uncomfortableness to get to the matter through talking it out.

Be a positive role model when in the community. Please Visit website before applying

Must have valid driver’s license, proof of insurance, have a vehicle and operate an email and Word document. If this is you, send your resume to to schedule an appointment.

Please follow directions. No inboxes and messages. God bless.

Job Type: Part-time with flexible hours

Pay: $15.00 per hour