LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Sad, heartbroken and angry – those were just some of the ways a Little Rock boy described how the violence in central Arkansas impacts him.
Deshaun Austin is just 10 years old and has already lost a cousin to gun violence. The emotion on his young face was visible.
“He was walking from here and he got shot,” Deshaun said. “He died.”
He explained his cousin was leaving the Dalton Whetstone Boys & Girls Club in Southwest Little Rock when he was killed. Deshaun has been a member at the club for the past six years.
The club has been known as a safe haven for many of the kids who attend there daily, and that’s no different for Deshaun. He said it’s one of the few places he can let his guard down and feel safe emotionally and physically.
He, along with other young members at the club, live with the reality of gun violence daily, so the Boys & Girls Club allowed some of its youth to share their experiences.
“There’s always shootings”
Zaya McCormick was the oldest in the group at 16 years old. She works at the Boys & Girls Club and was one of the first in the group to explain how often she hears about shootings.
“There was one at a school the day before yesterday and then there was one down the street from my house the day before that,” Zaya said.
She added that she does not feel safe walking around her neighborhood, which is near Geyer Springs Road.
“Kind of like fear, like a wonder of how close it is and who it was and why,” Zaya said about hearing gunshots while at home.
Miracle Nowden is 13 years old and has been going to the Boys & Girls Club for about four years.
“There’s always shootings at the apartment complex over there [behind the club] and sometimes we’ll have to go on lockdown and all that stuff and it be scary,” Miracle said.
Kendall Jackson is also 13 years old and has been a member of the Boys & Girls Club for four years.
“We hide sometimes, but most of the time we just let them shoot,” Kendall said about hearing shootings near her southwest Little Rock home.
“It feels really sad to hear gunshots because we don’t know if people are dying or if they’re hurt or injured and we hide,” Deshaun said.
When asked if they feel safe walking around their neighborhoods, the kids all agreed that they don’t.
“You could get shot,” Kendall said. “You could get taken.”
“Usually playing with my friends, that’s the only time I feel safe because I know there’s adults that are out there watching us and that’s the only time I feel safe,” Deshaun added.
“When I go outside my house, I sit on my porch,” Zaya said. “Nobody can see me up there, so I just sit on my porch. That’s it. I don’t walk around or anything like that.”
Safe haven at Boys & Girls Club
The Whetstone Boys & Girls Club has been a staple of the southwest Little Rock community for decades. Staff at the club has helped shape the lives of many children over the years by providing them with hope, giving them opportunities, and seeing their greatest potential.
“I like that we get along and it’s really no fighting or arguing,” Deshaun said about his time at the club.
“I like the sense of community,” Zaya added. “It’s like a big family.”
While at the club, the kids get help with their homework, participate in activities and get to go on field trips.
Because of where the club is located and the activity that happens beyond the front doors, the club practices lockdown drills and offers members training for conflict resolution, which the group said has been beneficial.
“They help me because they put us in safe positions,” Kendall said.
“They help me emotionally and physically because sometimes I come there and I’m sad,” Deshaun said. “It’s either because I have somebody being mean to me or something and they just help me with that.”
“In this day and age, it’s good to know that no matter what, somebody’s got your back,” Zaya said about the staff at the club.
What the youth need from adults
In the first 10 months of 2021, Little Rock saw a 20 percent increase in homicides. In those cases, 11 of the victims and eight of the suspects were 18 years old or younger.
“We need protection,” Deshaun said when asked what adults can do to help children feel safer. “We need people that can watch us and keep us safe.”
Miracle believed it starts with listening.
“Cause some people, when they try to talk to somebody about what’s going on, the other person won’t listen, and so that person get mad and just do harmful things to other people cause don’t nobody really listen to them,” Miracle said.
Kendall would like school officials to step in and help on campus.
“They should start making some metal detectors in the school,” Kendall said.
When it comes to guns, the youth believed they need to be used in the correct way.
“Guns are just really to help people, not to hurt them,” Deshaun said.
“I think that they should only let people like the police and military only have the guns and not nobody else,” Miracle said.
“I think people should really just think before they go and do stuff like that,” Zaya said. “When you’re done with it and when it’s over, it doesn’t really change anything and you don’t know how what you did affect somebody else, so I think you should really think about stuff like that before you do something like that.”