By Alex Distefano
Back in June, a teenage girl was seriously injured in a gang-related fight that erupted in the Home Gardens Library. Some residents now say the small community of around 10,000 residents in an area adjacent to the 91 Freeway, just East of Corona, is facing a rise in gang-related violence. This area unfortunately saw the fatal shooting of a twenty two-year-old female in an area just next to Home Gardens in Corona, on June 6.
Akiliah Manuel Mills, Library Assistant at the Home Gardens, Library told the Weekly that a community forum to address gang violence and prevention happened on Wed. evening, Sep. 18, at the Home Gardens Library.
Mills told the Weekly that this is the second meeting to address the concerns of residents, and said that the first meeting was held after the tragic injuries the teenage female received in the gang fight in June. “The participants of the first forum wanted more, so now we’re having this one,” Mills said.
Mills also said that Gang Intervention Specialist Jay Franklin is scheduled to lead the dialogue in this meeting. She said that the library and many other individuals and organizations helped to put this second forum together. This includes the Community Action Partnership and Senator Roth’s (D-Riverside) office.
“The library has served as a safe neutral ground to facilitate the dialogue but Jay Franklin tailors his presentation specifically to the Southern California prison gangs and Corona barrio gangs for his Home Gardens presentation,” Mills explained.
Mills said that Franklin has been working in gang prevention and intervention for over 20 years. “He trains numerous agencies, and is also a mentor who has been to too many funerals of teenagers,” Mills said. “He has orchestrated many peace marches and lends himself to youth daily. He comes from a genuine place and never disrespects the individual.”
Mills said that it is no secret there is a gang problem in certain parts of the IE and thinks it is most certainly connected to poverty. “Poverty and gang activity are all over the IE. I live in Riverside, and can go on and on,” she said.
She said that the library does its best to reach out to the youths who want to focus on an education in a safe haven, instead of facing the gangs on the street.
According to Mills, many kids and teens hang out at the library after school on weekdays. “It’s the one of the few alternatives to ‘street stress’ if you don’t want to bang,” she said.
The forum will be about empowering the community. “We are pushing the ‘See something, say something’ campaign,” she said. “This goes for in the library, the parking lot and this neighborhood. Being visible as an adult or telling library staff, school officials, clergymen and law enforcement when something is going on is a start.”
Mills said perhaps faith-based organizations might be part of a solution to this senseless epidemic of gang culture and lifestyle. “There are well over 20 faith based churches in the Home Gardens area alone,” she said. “They have to leave the walls of the buildings and hang out where the people are.”
“People in Home Gardens are acutely aware of the problems,” Mills said. “We are continuing to strategize and partnership and collaborations such as these are key.”
At the end of the day, Mills said that the area doesn’t matter when it comes to the problem of gangs, and that we can’t allow hatred or injustice to be tool in fighting the problem of gangs. “Gangs in any area are a criminal organization that feed on fear and terror,” she said. “Love is the greatest power of all and if we just love our neighbor we can start a revolution in the IE.”