The stabbing death of Anthony Santa Cruz, a teenage student, occurred on North 21st Street in February, a half-dozen blocks from my home. Of course, the tragedy shook Anthony‘s family and friends profoundly, but difficult emotions rippled throughout our community—parents, teachers, and neighbors.
At a recent session of my community office hours at the East Carnegie Library, Northside community leader Erik Thacker raised an important question to me and roughly two dozen neighbors gathered there. “What can we do?,” Erik asked. Emphasizing that hundreds of kids are lost to street crime and gangs every year in San Jose, Erik sought to find out how he could participate in a solution that would divert kids from the “default” to a life of education, opportunity and achievement.
I watched various neighbors think about Erik’s question, and people started to jump in. Many accurately observed that our severely understaffed police department needs resources, an issue about which we’re all keenly aware—I’ve recently proposed a stop-gap measure to attempt to address the declining numbers of officers in our ranks. But people roundly acknowledge that placing an officer on every street corner can’t stop youth violence where kids simply don’t have positive alternatives.
Predictably, I gave a familiar “pitch” – encouraging anyone willing to give an hour of their time each week to tutor a child to join our “1,000 Hearts for 1,000 Minds” effort to participate with any of our great non-profit partners, like Boys and Girls Club, Reading Partners, and Third Street Community Center. Why tutoring, I was asked? Ample studies show that one-on-one tutoring can have the most direct impact on a child’s ability to learn, stay in school, and achieve, and plenty of kids need a positive adult role model.
Then Paul Murphy, a parent and advocate for youth sports and education, spoke up. He invited us to see what Bill Kleidon and his son, George Kleidon, had done to form a free youth sports league in Northside. Recognizing that many of our families can’t afford to participate in a sports league, and watching the elimination of City-sponsored leagues from budget cuts, Bill and George took action. They hosted fundraising events, gathered several fellow San Jose High alums to volunteer as coaches and refs, and started a flag football league at Watson Park in the fall of 2012 with 120 kids. They’ve now moved on to basketball season, and another 180 kids are enjoying a free opportunity to learn the sport, build friendships, improve their health and find an positive outlet for their energy.
A couple of Saturdays later, I dropped by Watson Park, so that I could see for myself. The sight was impressive: Bill and George had the often-quiet park full of kids and parents, many of whom participate as coaches and refs. Girls and boys play together—a very compelling approach to sports, particularly with younger kids. For many parents, it presented a rare the opportunity to meet other parents from their child’s school, to talk about their families and their neighborhoods—a great recipe for community-building.
What can we do? As Scott Knies says, “if you see something growing that you like, water it.” We can help support Bill and George’s effort by volunteering your time with the kids, or by helping financially to buy equipment and t-shirts. If you’re willing to help in any way, reach out to Bill Kleidon at [email protected]; contributions will be funneled through the San Jose High Alumni Association (Tax ID #20-8458652).
What else can we do? There are many great organizations working to positive pathways for our kids – Project Cornerstone, the Silicon Valley Education Foundation, CCPY, to name a few. We can crowd-source a solution to youth violence in our communities— but it will take all hands on deck, and yours will be a valuable addition.