INDIANAPOLIS — As violence continues to plague Indy’s streets, city leaders are putting forth a new ad campaign on area billboards.
The signs are created by young people working with Voices, an anti-violence group. The billboards are meant to spark conversations about violence within the city’s youth. There will be 25 billboards in total. The artistic creators wanted them placed in areas that are being hit hard by area violence.
“What I learned during this process is when you give young people that opportunity, young people that hope, when you empower young people, it can produce incredible results,” explained Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears. “Adults need to do a better job listening to kids, and they need to do a better job listening to the topic of violence.”
The signs will speak on two central messages. The first is about root causes of the violence such as trauma, lack of access, and self preservation.
“A lot of times people say violence can be changed. Just lock people up? It’s not that simple,” explained Brandon Randall, director of Engagement of Voices Corp. “People will say lack of access, how does that cause trauma? And, then have that conversation. We all know that a billboard is not changing the violence overnight. There’s no program or policy that will do that either, but we still do the work.”
Randall says younger generations need to believe that their lives can still be productive, especially if they have already had a run in with the law. At times, this can go back to these root causes. For instance, in years past, law enforcement found that children were being paid by adults to rob stores and pharmacies. Actions like this can be characterized as self preservation.
“It’s that connection. If a young person feels like they are being seen and affirmed by someone willing to pay $1,000 for them to hit up a phone store, then we in the community need to match that relationship, and do it in a positive way,” explained Randall.
The second set of messaging is about being powerful, beautiful, human, and part of a family.
“There’s very much this fear factor that everyone wants to scare people with fear, but you can combat that message when you come in with hope and empowering young people,” adds Mears.
“You give a kid hope, and remind them of their leadership potential, and are consistent in your investment, that can shift things,” said Randall, “[The billboard creators] wanted to see that daily reminder.”
The billboards will be up for the next four weeks, however organizers hope the discussions about violence continue for much longer than that.