Lashae Morrison’s and Queshon McDaniel’s cousin was shot and killed in October, mere feet from the Westville Manor building where they plant flowers and learn about making the world greener.
Wednesday the teens sought to make the world safer from violence, too, by hanging up inspirational banners for people to read while passing through the neighborhood.
Lashae and Queshon live at the West Manor public-housing complex, which has been wracked by shootings including the murder of their mutual cousin. They and eight other teens there take part in Solar Youth organization’’s Green Jobs summer internship program, which sponsors beautification projects while teaching valuable employment skills and resume-writing and visiting nearby universities.
Earlier this week, the teens painted four canvas banners, with positive messages reading “Believe in Yourself,” “Always Chase Your Dreams,” “Education is the Key,” and “Dreams Worth More Than Money.” On Wednesday, they hung the finished products on a chain link fence on Level Street, right behind several Westville Manor homes.
McDaniel said the last message speaks the most to him: “If it was up to me, I’d follow my dreams rather than have money. For some people, money controls their lives.”
Morrison said she hopes their messages make a positive impact on the community, especially the younger kids who may not fully understand the seriousness of the violence going on around them.
“When they see these messages, they’ll want to do better and not go toward violence,” she said.
“Violence doesn’t solve anything,” said McDaniel. “You’re taking away someone’s life, someone’s family member. It affects the community.”
Recently, the secluded neighborhood has seen two murders in 2013 and four shootings within seven days this spring.
This prompted Solar Youth founder and Executive Director Joanne Sciulli to write this article in May when her staff painted a 30-foot banner reading “You Are Important to Us” and pinned it on the Level Street fence.
In June, Solar Youth received letters from prisoners at a maximum security prison, written in response to the article. In the letters, the men expressed words of support toward the Solar Youth staff, and asked the youth not to make the same mistakes that landed them in the slammer.
After reading the letters, Sciulli said, the teen interns this summer decided they wanted to paint their own messages. They also cleared the overgrowth surrounding part of the fence to prepare for banner placement.
Sciulli said she wants people to realize that the new messages hanging from the fence are the words of children and teens. “They want to change the community, and give young people the opportunity to voice their opinions and ideas,” she said.
Sciulli said she hopes to see the Solar Youth grow in the coming years, by adding more support programs to help teens graduate high school and teach life skills.