More than a year after it formed, a youth-led anti-violence movement in the North End continues to chip away at crime in the community.
Meet Me at the Bell Tower, a weekly event organized by young North End residents at the corner of Selkirk Avenue and Powers Street, celebrated its one year anniversary last October.
Michael Champagne, one of the movement’s founding organizers, says Winnipeg police crime statistics prove that the movement is having an impact in the beleaguered William Whyte neighbourhood.
Since this time last year, homicides in William Whyte have decreased by 50 per cent and sexual assaults by 31 per cent, according to Winnipeg police CrimeStat data.
“If we can help reduce crime, then in what other ways can we offer help to our city?” Champagne, 25, said in an interview with The Uniter last week.
The movement held its first rally in October 2011, shortly after 15-year-old Clark Stevenson was stabbed to death in a gang dispute at the corner of Aikens Street and College Avenue.
There had been several previous attempts to address the violence in the neighbourhood from different community organizations, as well as Winnipeg police, but those efforts were not including young people, Champagne said.
“We said, let’s have a youth-led response where we’re the ones that are taking the lead, and we’re the ones calling out to ... our fellow community members to make sure they know how important it is to us as young people (to not have to) bury any more of the people we love,” he said.
The initial plan was to only hold one rally, however, an average of 40 people continue to meet at the Bell Tower each Friday night at 6 p.m. Some meetings can be as big as 100 people strong.
“It’s crazy to think that it’s been going on for so long,” Champagne said.
Each rally begins with the hanging of the Banner of Hope. Champagne said it’s much like a game, and the task is done by the children who attend the weekly meetings.
“Hanging up the banner is symbolic. People know that hope is in session,” he said. “It’s great that it’s the children leading that.”
The rallies haven’t just sparked conversations about local issues. Participants often talk about topics ranging from the Quebec student protests, Idle No More and the Occupy movement.
“We’re kind of an activist meeting place,” he said.
“All of those groups are welcome and invited to work cooperatively with us because we believe that our vision of a violence-free community is one many people can stand behind.”
Winnipeg police did not grant The Uniter an interview.
Published in Volume 67, Number 16 of The Uniter (January 16, 2013)