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What does a healthy community look like? This organization is hoping to find out

What does a healthy community look like? This organization is hoping to find out
Posted at 6:52 PM, Aug 22, 2022

RICHMOND, Va. -- What does a healthy community look like?

That's the question Valerie Slater, the executive director of RISE for Youth, wants the Richmond community to ask. On Thursday, August 25, RISE will host "Redefine the Vital Signs," a community-wide celebration aiming at utilizing the five senses as a means of redesigning schools, businesses and other aspects of Richmond neighborhoods.

"We have got Storefront for Community Design coming out to talk about designing your own community. We have other partners that are going to talk about what it smells like, what it feels like, what it tastes like," Slater said.

To Slater, reframing a community's image reinforces safety, keeping children out of the criminal justice system.

"This event is a paradigm shift away from crime and police and towards health and healing and letting that be a catalyst for creating safe environments," Slater said. "When children go into the juvenile justice system, over 70% of them at the three-year mark are back in trouble and reconvicted. That means we have spent over $250,000 dollars, per youth, if we're locking them up in our one youth prison. This crime and punishment idea, if it's not producing the healthier, safer, more productive and thriving young people that we're ultimately looking for from our juvenile justice system, we better do something different."

Dr. Ram Bhagat, a retired educator who cofounded Drum No Guns, said music can be a form of healing for youth impacted by gun violence.

"After the shots or after the gun stops firing, the trauma doesn't stop," Bhagat said. "Right now, it feels like our schools, our communities are out of balance and that we need to get connected, reconnected and realigned."

Bhagat will be at Thursday's event and plans on hosting drum circles for anyone to participate in.

"We can heal community with rhythm. It's a language. It's a way to connect and communicate. Through rhythm, we can bring people together, and we can educate people around conflict resolution, restorative justice, healing circles," Bhagat said.

Raelyn Williams with the Virginia Sexual Domestic Violence Action Alliance said creating a healthy community begins with educating youth on healthy relationships.

"Sometimes it can be as simple as teaching young people, little toddlers, about sharing as a way for them to model healthy relationships as they grow older," Williams said. "There will be a lot of opportunities to work on these emotional wellbeing things and having the space to explore that and what it feels like in our bodies."

Shiloh Tillman, a youth advocate with RISE, said she wants the community to listen to the mental health and education needs Richmond's youth is asking for.

"Knowing that I'm a young lady walking out, in general, it can be very unsafe, to feel as though when you walk outside your door, you'll never know what happens," Tillman said. "For a safe community that I've been in, it has felt as though I can walk out of my door and feel that nothing can harm me, nothing can be in my way from what I want to do at the end of the day."

RISE will be coordinating similar events throughout the Commonwealth, collecting community input to share with legislators.

"We need you to listen and provide the resources and the supports that are necessary for communities to realize their vision of 'healthy,' because their vision of 'healthy' will also create their vision of safety."

The event will be held at Abner Clay Park from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

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