By Genoa Barrow | OBSERVER Senior Staff Writer
When it comes to violence in the Black community, African American men have been both victim and victimizer. Becoming a victor, however, starts from within.
Local activist and mentor Berry Accius is helping give Black males an outlet. Accius is the founder of Voice of The Youth and such related organizations as Don’t Shoot Our Future Down and She Could Be My Daughter. The groups often tackle the issues of domestic abuse and community violence.
“It all plays a critical role in the work that we do,” Accius said.
The discussion series Motivating Other Brothers (MOB) was started in 2013, with sessions held in South Sacramento and North Sacramento, including barbershops like Mixed Institute and Fadez on 20th.
“We have brothers who are elders, as well as young adults, teenagers all come together and just have a gathering of minds, so we can all be at a set stage and set place to try to resolve conflicts and come up with solutions,” Accius shared.
As word spread, local Black mothers began bringing their sons to the sessions.
“We’ve got to spread the knowledge as well as have one-on-one mentoring, mentorship for young men who struggle with feeling lost and feeling like they want to hurt somebody,” Accius said.
Multiple subjects were discussed, but domestic violence and gun violence were at the root. In 2020, Brother, Can We Talk? expanded the conversation.
“We started that right when the pandemic hit because we saw the increase of domestic violence and we saw brothers struggling to have an outlet to kind of have a conversation,” Timiza Wash, WEAVE’s director of community engagement strategies, said the program was instrumental in her organization’s outreach to area Black men.
“We weren’t going to label all men as abusers — they may be a high percentage,” Wash said. “But first (we asked), ‘Are men educated about domestic violence?’ ‘Why do they abuse?’ ‘Let’s have real talk conversations.’”
More open discourse is needed, Accius said. “I think we’re losing that. I feel like a lot of what’s happening is that males, unless they have a mental condition, they’re not being talked to or spoken to in the way that they need, or we lost them so young that we have to start training our young men at an early age what treating a woman — what treating yourself — right looks like.”
Continued exposure to violence and a lack of access to positive role models and uplifting opportunities are negatively impacting a lot of local youth.
“You’ve got to understand that if a younger person comes up in a household full of abuse, a neighborhood full of abuse — if a young person comes up listening to music that’s all about abuse, we’ve already lost the battle,” Accius said. “By the time they get to be older, unless they have the right mind capacity and find other bridges to what they’re dealing with, then we find ourselves in a place where a lot of young people have already made the decision on who and what they want to be like.”
Many of them, he said, conclude that violence is the only option. “When we have that, that is dangerous for all our communities,” Accius said.
With stressors such as poverty and hunger, housing instability, bullying and parental neglect and abuse, as well as catching up educationally after the pandemic, children nowadays are dealing with a lot. Some are harming themselves to cope — or killing themselves because they can’t.
“There’s not enough 24-hour service care for young people that go through what they go through,” Accius said. “Those young people end up being adults. That’s why we say we start with the young person, because once an adult figures out what they want to do, it’s hard for an adult to get off that. It takes a hell of a person to come out and defeat the demons that they are playing with at an early age.”
Interrupting mindsets and generational norms isn’t easy work. It’s often underfunded as well.
“We’re not funded in a way that’s long term for these long-term issues, or these generational issues,” Accius said. “As a society, we’ve never really wanted to put the investment into what help looks like servicing or providing help, because servicing and providing help is not profitable.”
For more information, visit voiceoftheyouth.org.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This project was reported with the support of the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism‘s Domestic Violence Impact Reporting Fund.