Last weekend, it was the cops who hit the streets, as about 100 Springfield, state and federal law enforcement officers were deployed over a period of about 12 hours in “Operation Blue Knight,” described by officials as an effort both to deter crime and reassure anxious residents that their city is a safe place.
Organizers call the event—which will take place from 1 to 5 p.m. at Court Sqaure, and is open to all city residents—a “public gathering opportunity for Springfield’s young people and their families to enjoy a fun, peaceful, and up-lifting day in unity, committed to a summer in our city free from violence.”
The event will include talks by three city men who serve as mentors to troubled teens through a Hampden County Sheriff’s Department program, who will tell “their come-from-behind stories” of their growth from “bad-acting street kids”—including gang activity and time in jail—to “family men and productive citizens.”
“We feel it is important that as many Springfield youth as possible hear the stories of these men,” Jesse Lederman, a city high school student and chair of the Youth Council, wrote in a letter to the Advocate. “We know that many Springfield youth will be able to relate to the lives that they came from, and we want them to see that it is possible to be successful even when you face enormous challenges.”
The celebration will also include performances by Maurice “Soul Fighter” Taylor and Teatro V!da Youth Performance Ensemble and games for younger kids. A number of public and private organizations will also be there to offer information about summer programs for young people in the city.
Since starting its Campaign Against Violence last year, the McKnight Youth Council has hosted a number of events, including a rally and a public safety forum. Those efforts have been backed by the Springfield Police Department and City Hall.