Cincinnati Works: More Mentors are Needed to Slow Down Skyrocketing Youth Shootings

“We need more good people to be visible in the communities. Try and show them something different.”

click to enlarge Mitch Morris is taking on the rising problem of youth shootings through the Save Our Youth Cincinnati Kings & Queens program. - Photo: Cincinnati Save Our Youth Kings & Queens
Photo: Cincinnati Save Our Youth Kings & Queens
Mitch Morris is taking on the rising problem of youth shootings through the Save Our Youth Cincinnati Kings & Queens program.
Mitch Morris is trying to keep up with the rising number of children and teens getting shot in Cincinnati. 

“Two [shootings] back-to-back about a month ago,” Morris said. “We had two teens shot up here in Winton Hills. That’s why we try to stay out here and stay visible in the community.”

Morris leads the Cincinnati Works Phoenix Program, which aims to reduce gun violence by connecting at-risk adults with jobs. For kids under 18, Morris is taking on youth shootings through the Cincinnati Save Our Youth Kings & Queens program.

“I pretty much go into the areas where folks are known to shoot guns and try to talk to them about making a change,” Morris told CityBeat. “We have too many young folks going to the penitentiary and too many dying in the streets.”

The data

So far in 2023, 34 juveniles have been shot in Cincinnati, according to data provided to CityBeat by the Cincinnati Police Department. Even with Cincinnati shootings trending slightly downward overall, that’s more than triple the 10 minors who were shot in 2022. While many of the cases are still being investigated by CPD, Morris said it’s most common for shootings with juvenile victims to have juvenile shooters.

For years, Cincinnati Works has been a platform for Morris to incentivize kids who are picking up guns to replace them with something else.

“If they’re selling dope trying to make money, then that opens the door, we say, look, we’ll get you a job,” he said.

When a child is shot and killed, Morris said the impacts are felt far and deep. He’s also there to help with the emotional and sometimes economic aftermath felt by families.

“I try to talk to cousins, brothers, about stopping any retaliation,” Morris said. “And the parents, I have cases where I connect with the family after the child’s been shot and the mother might lose her job because, you know, mentally she’s just traumatized and can’t get back to work. A year or two might go by and she’ll think about me and call me and come by the program and end up getting a decent job to make a living on.”

Breaking the "illusion"

Morris and his staff of four mentors go out into neighborhoods after a shooting and pass out leaflets about ending gun violence. He said guns are becoming too easy for kids to get their hands on.

“Guns are so easily accessible,” he said. “There’s so many guns out there. Folks will get a hold of these guns and they’re chasing an illusion, they don’t really know the end results.”

To Morris, the illusion that’s being taught is a world where getting back at someone means an automatic death sentence.

“That’s what they know,” he said. “If you got an older person telling you, ‘If someone owes you money or is disrespecting you, this is what you do, this is the kind of life we live.' So, what we try to do is get in there and change that whole scenario.”

While the city works in the background to solve one part of the problem, advancing safer gun storage laws, Morris said community mentors are needed to break the “illusion” problem.
“We need more good people to be visible in the communities. Try and show them something different,” he said.

A fresh perspective

Cincinnati Works’ Save Our Youth Kings & Queens program has a physical space in Winton Terrace at 4848 Winneste Avenue where kids can use computers and hang out in a safe space. Morris hopes to create a media center there where kids can learn how to record podcasts and engineer audio and music. Along with his four mentors, Morris also tries to get kids out of the neighborhood for a fresh perspective.

“We show them different things that make them want to change their mind about carrying a gun,” Morris said. “We do nice things with them, things they wouldn’t normally see. You take them to a football game, a baseball game, you take them to a nice restaurant and sit them down to eat. These are things they aren’t accustomed to do. That’s what my mentor guys are all about.”

It’s not just taking kids on field trips, Morris said it’s about showing them how to deal when adult life gets hard.

“You have to lead by example. If they see you out drinking and driving crazy, that ain't gonna work,” he said. “Take them and show them what a real man is like, show them how you got problems as well and this is how we work through it.”

Share your skills

With 2023’s sharp increase in juvenile shootings, Morris is looking for more mentors. He said there’s no wrong skill set to bring to Winneste Avenue as a mentor – just sharing what you know and love is enough.

“Whatever you do that you enjoy, that’s what we want you to bring to the table,” he said. “Are you a cook? Are you a carpenter, a mason? Whatever your skill, what you enjoy doing, we’d love to share that with some of these youth, because they might just enjoy it as much as you. But they don’t know about it if someone doesn’t bring it to them.”

Those who are interested in mentoring can reach out to Morris at [email protected].

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