The Connection Between Violence and Teen Parents

Youth violence is a problem experienced by many inner-city and low-income neighborhoods. Youth Radio's Pendarvis Harshaw says violence doesn't just end the lives of young men and women. It also has a connection to teen pregnancy when teens try to prolong their lives by creating a new one.

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

Low graduation rates, high rates of teenage pregnancy and youth violence, are all issues that keep kids in troubled neighborhoods from reaching their full potential.

Youth Radio's Pendarvis Harshaw says the problems are all related. Growing up in Oakland, California, he's seen first-hand the connection between teen violence and teen pregnancy.

PENDARVIS HARSHAW reporting:

I met Will(ph) when we were in the seventh grade. The same year, a female classmate of mine became a mother at age 13. Not too long after she gave birth, my partner Noro(ph) was murdered in Stockton. That was my first time experiencing both extremes.

Up to that point, the biggest drama had been fistfights or getting jumped. But death, that was only for old people. At the time I didn't realize it, but seventh grade was my introduction to teen life in East Oakland. January 26th of this year, my friend Will was murdered.

The church was crowded for his funeral. Wall-to-wall with familiar faces, some of which I hadn't seen since middle school. It seemed like everybody was wearing hooded sweatshirts silk-screened with Will's photo. Will was my boy, and to be putting on a button-up and these hard-bottom shoes to put him in a casket, it just didn't seem real.

The funeral carried on and on, until one speaker caught my attention when he said Will Clay the III lives on through his son, Will Clay the IV. And someone in the front row held up the four-month old. This was my first time seeing Will's baby. After the funeral, you could feel East Oakland mourning. Some cried tears of hostility, some cried tears of frustration, and some, like me, couldn't cry.

I kept thinking about seeing Will's son. All of last summer he had been telling me about how stressful the whole baby's mama drama situation was. His son was born around the time of Will's 19th birthday. Four months later, Will was murdered.

I live in a city where the homicide count is constantly rising like gas prices. At the same time, I've got four family members expecting children, and three friends with kids on the way. It seems as if every time a teenager gives birth, another teenager dies. Seventh grade was my first taste of the combination dish of babies and bullets, but this year has been especially hard to swallow.

Politicians notoriously preach about combating the high rate of teenage pregnancy, but an honest observation should point you towards the actual problem: when young adults get the news that they're responsible for another life, they feel an overwhelming amount of pressure. They stress about having the resources to feed, bath, and clothe their kids. But all of these concerns seem petty when considering the most important responsibility, staying around, and even more so, staying alive to raise their sons and daughters.

I wonder if the stress and risk of bringing a newborn into this world is worth it. But then, I remember how beautiful Will's son looked.

I'm Pendarvis Harshaw.

CHIDEYA: That story was produced by Youth Radio.

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CHIDEYA: This is NPR News.

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