Union funds anti-violence push that's aimed at kids

The city's violence prevention efforts received a boost this week after the state's largest healthcare workers' union handed over a $200,000 check for a new marketing campaign aimed at youth in violence-plagued neighborhoods.

"We're really aiming for marketing that's for youth by youth," said Barbara Ferrer, head of the Boston Public Health Commission.

The money, from SEIU 1199 United Healthcare Workers East at Boston Medical Center and other area facilities, will go towards mini-grants for kids to create the marketing and "we'll pay for the message to get out," Ferrer said at a public health fair in Franklin Park, where the announcement was made.

That includes not just the radio, but popular outlets like YouTube, a video sharing website.

"The culture of violence is the dominant culture" among some children, said Ferrer, a former high school headmaster. "The only way to shift away is to build an alternative culture."

Pointing to two young rappers on the stage, Jamal and Jermaine Hamilton of Real Talk, Ferrer said both are in workshops that will be supported through the mini-grants.

"They like doing this," she said. "There is a way to get this culture to support peace."

Jermaine Hamilton, 19, said the workshop offers mentoring opportunities and experiencing in disc jockeying. They will get to showcase what they learned at a September party, he added.

One of the mentors at the workshops is Antonio Ennis, a local fashion designer and retailer. "The guns are what we have to put to rest," he said. Ennis said that some city kids are in competition to see who can wear the most buttons that bear the name or likeness of murder victims they knew.

"The kid with the most murder victims has the most medals, and we don't want that no more," he said. "It's a competition like who has the most pins. It's crazy."

Surrounded by children holding signs saying "Peace in the Streets" and "Pro Peace," Mayor Thomas Menino said, "I'm not hip-hop, you guys are hip-hop."

"We want them to be part of the solution," Menino added afterwards.

The $200,000 commitment is the first time in Boston's history that a union has invested in striking at urban violence such as the Violence Intervention Prevention (VIP) initiative. The initiative was created last November.

"Our members are part of this community and we have an obligation to help out like everyone else," said Celia Wcislo, a top SEIU official.

Veronica Turner, a vice president with SEIU 1199, said the union's members have participated in churches and parades in the past, along with the public health fair. "Finally, we decided to do things in an organized fashion," she said of the donation.