By Regina Leader-Post, May 27, 2016
Shawna Oochoo has a story to tell and hopes it will help sway youth from getting involved in gangs.
She has put together a presentation that she wants to deliver to communities in Treaty 4 territory and urban centres.
Oochoo, a mother of two and long-time North Central resident, said there is a lack of resources out there when it comes to raising awareness about gangs and gang violence.
Her presentation, which she calls Straight out of North Central, is something she has thought about for several years.
However, she felt compelled to do something now because of all the violence and gang violence coming out of her neighbourhood.
Oochoo and a group of concerned community members launched the NC End the Violence initiative in February. The initiative quickly gained momentum, which gave rise to White Pony Lodge, a non-profit organization aimed to create a safer neighbourhood in North Central.
“As I was working on White Pony Lodge stuff, I started seeing this need for something to create awareness and educate our youth in regards to the gang violence and the risks and consequences involved (in that lifestyle),” said Oochoo. “I have a lot of personal experience in regards to that and I thought, ‘How can I use my personal experience to educate and inform?’ ”
She also works in a youth centre and other staff have asked to to speak to some youth about the perils of gang life and share some alternatives.
“I thought this was the perfect opportunity to get out there and show that you can come from one of the most violent neighbourhoods in the city, but there are also so much positive things that can come out of those experiences,” said Oochoo.
Growing up in North Central, she was one of those kids who got involved.
“I can remember, as young as 12 years old, hanging out with these older street kids,” said Oochoo. “We hung out in groups and we used to do that as a form of protection because as a kid, you never want to be running around (North Central) all by yourself, so we had these little groups of friends.”
Eventually those little groups evolved into something bigger and started getting involved in criminal activity, she said.
“I was one of those kids who was easily pulled in,” said Oochoo. “Even in my early adult years I held on to that mentality and it was very hard to break away from it.”
However, she decided to make a change after becoming a mother .
“I was fortunate enough to break away,” said Oochoo. “A lot of my friends who carried on with that lifestyle are currently serving 25 years to life.”
Oochoo also wants to encourage and empower the youth so they can make better choices — one alternative is by reconnecting to culture and ceremonies.
She believes there needs to be more gang awareness programs in North Central and hopes her presentation will help fill that gap.
Those interested in finding out more information about Straight out of North Central can contact her directly at email@example.com.