AURORA, Colo. — More kids are being impacted by gun violence in our community. But, there are people out there trying to stop it, like the Crowley Foundation.
On Saturday, they hosted a workshop called Boys2Men.
One of the first sessions of the morning was the "I Love Myself" workshop. It's one of four sessions that 50 Colorado middle school, high school and a few undergraduate students participated in.
"I want to come out a different person than I came in earlier," said Michael Kassahun, a 17-year-old student at Rangeview High School. "Crowley Foundation came at the right timing for me just to choose a better future for myself and they gave me a better perspective on how to see the world."
Kassahun is already growing, finding strength in being able to talk about his emotions and mental health.
"Instead of holding those feelings inside of me, just thinking negative stuff about them, if I just write it down, just get it out of my system, it will be a good thing," he said. “That’s what I learned so far and there is more to learn today.”
Kassahun came to the U.S. from Ethiopia two years ago and has been involved with the Crowley Foundation for the last year. He lost his mother when he was ten years old.
"I'm pretty sensitive, I learned that... I just keep it to myself and they're like, 'What's wrong with you, Michael?' and stuff, but I learned today that it's OK not to be OK," said Kassahun. "I’ve been learning a lot about loving yourself, taking care of yourself, and now we’re learning about youth violence and how to avoid it.”
"When they're making those connections in real life, that's the real win for us," said Kenneth Crowley II, program director for the Crowley Foundation.
He said these young men need community leaders today, not tomorrow.
"Our young people are dealing with a lot. Outside of gun violence, it is substance abuse. It is neglect. It's domestic violence. It's mental health issues," said Crowley. “We have young kings here who are mourning right now because of the loss of friends.”
They've curated this workshop with sessions on mental health, sex awareness and healthy masculinity, social media awareness, and college readiness with all of it centered around reducing youth violence.
“We don’t want to just tell them you’re at-risk and this is why. We want to tell them this is also how you can turn that around and be more protected and have a life that is fulfilled and exciting and around more positive peers and a brotherhood," said Crowley. "We want to make sure our content is always relevant and that these young kings are receiving it and that they could see this information in their real life when they leave here."
"I got here by taking the hardest look at myself," said Curtis Brooks.
Brooks was the keynote speaker at Boys2Men. He said his story is a very public one, especially in Colorado.
"I want to tell them what I wish I had heard when I was their age and that's the truth," said Brooks. "The biggest thing is that you are enough. I don't think that children are ever told that. I think that our society has a tendency to tear kids down and make them feel like they aren’t enough and put them in a position where they have to try too hard to prove that they are good enough, when they are."
Brooks served 24 years in prison for a crime he was a part of at the age of 15.
“I did not fire the gun that killed an innocent man that night, but I had the power to do the right thing which was go to someone that could have put a stop to it and I didn’t," said Brooks. "The message, the motto, that I carry for myself, my motivation, is that I can look back at that circumstance and say that there was someone that I could have helped and I failed. I don’t ever want to say that again.”
He said he's made it his mission to show others you can learn from your mistakes and become a better person.
"To understand that it's not too late," he said. "I want people to see that I put in the effort to not just promote or talk about the fact that I’ve changed, but that I take the time to live out the things that I say and to be a representative for others who have made mistakes and put themselves in bad situations and just want the opportunity to show that they can be improved, better individuals."
Now, Kassahun said he's learning to embrace his own past, so that he can choose an even better future for himself.
"Not only earning money or going to college, that's not the only important thing. It's taking care of my brain, my mental health, my emotions, my body," he said. "That is life changing."
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