By Hadiyah Muhammad
At the start of my internship I worked with the Michigan Youth Violence Prevention Center (MI-YVPC) staff and community partners to organize the Safe & Healthy Futures Youth Festival, intended to raise community awareness about the 6 MI-YVPC programs available to youth and their families in Flint. The festival featured three incredible youth performance groups that showcased the amazing talent of youth in Flint. View photos from the day and watch a video highlighting the three performances in the MI-YVPC Media Gallery.
My community work continued with the MI-YVPC version of the Speak to Your Health! Community Survey. I accompanied a MI-YVPC surveyor to walk door to door to homes in Flint to administer the survey about community health and violence. While walking to a house we were stopped by a man locked out of his home. He asked us about our MI-YVPC logo t-shirts and clipboards and we explained our purpose in the neighborhood. He shared his appreciation of our violence prevention efforts and invited us to meet his dog to witness the reality of living on his street. Standing in his doorway, whimpering, was the saddest looking white pitbull I had ever seen. The dog had been shot through the right side of its neck, the scar tissue still very fresh. He explained that for no apparent reason the 13-15 year old kids living down the street shot his dog. He believed that getting the police involved would only incite more violence and shootings. My colleague and I spoke to him for a while and he talked about the hopelessness of the youth in his neighborhood. He explained how youth under the age of 21 seem to be killing each other and that somehow if they reach past that age, they’ll be ok.
I was affected by that man’s experience and the sad, mournful face of his dog for a week. Having been introduced to Flint via the Safe & Healthy Futures Youth Festival, it was hard for me to believe the other truth about Flint being one of the most dangerous cities in America. This man invited me to witness the stark reality of living on his street, which made me feel sad, angry, frustrated, and very shocked. After 30 minutes of absorbing his story, I walked away to knock on the door of another home.
At the end of the day, I traveled back to my comfortable and safe apartment in Ann Arbor. I reflected on the sacrifices my parents and grandparents continue to make in their lives so that I can live in a neighborhood where my pet’s safety is not at risk and where I could call out for help and expect “justice to be served.” I very rarely interact with people who have, and are willing to share, life experiences that are vastly different from my own. The problem with living in a bubble is that you start to think everyone or most everyone lives and thinks like you. As a future public health professional who desires to work in communities that may be very different from my own, it is critical for my personal and professional success to expand my “world” to learn about the reality of others and how our lives intersect and impact one another. I can still see the dog standing in the doorway and the anguish on the man’s face as he recounted his story. And, with that memory, I am reminded that I, too, am not “safe” until he is. The following quote sums up my sentiments about this experience:
“If you come here to help me, you’re wasting your time. If you come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”
-Lilla Watson, Australian Aborigine
Hadiyah Muhammad is a second year Health Behavior Health Education student at the University of Michigan. Her research interests focus on mental health issues in U.S. Muslim communities and identifying the intervention efforts and instructional programs best suited for mosques and Islamic centers of learning.