This summer, it’s all about peace in north Long Beach. Starting June 1, Houghton Park, 6301 Myrtle Ave., will be at the center of a week of free community events that will promote neighborhood safety and positive summer activities for youth and young adults.
The Be S.A.F.E. (Summer Activities in a Fun Environment) Long Beach Week is sponsored by 8th District Councilmember Al Austin, 9th District Councilmember Steven Neal, the Long Beach Community Action Partnership and numerous other community organizations.
“I am glad to work with Councilmember Austin and all of our great community partners to offer a week packed with events to promote unity, public safety and opportunities for our youth,” Neal said in a press statement Tuesday. “This is a great way to kick off the summer break and our new Summer Safe Zones program!”
Activities scheduled for the Be S.A.F.E. Long Beach Week include community meetings, a gun buy-back program, a bully-free-zone picnic, concerts, an art installation, a peace march and a rally. (See sidebar on page 8 for full schedule of events.)
Maeve Milstead serves as the director of youth programs for Long Beach Community Action Partnership. She emphasized the significance of holding the events at Houghton Park.
“It’s important to get everybody to come to the park and have a great, peaceful experience,” Milstead said in a telephone interview Tuesday.
She explained that the event will introduce Houghton Park’s extended hours for the summer. Beginning June 17, Houghton Park will remain open until 9pm for about two months. The extended hours are a new effort to provide positive activities and resources for youth and young adults in the park.
While Milstead emphasized that it is important for people to feel safe to come to the park during this week of community events, she acknowledged that there are negative connotations associated with parks during the evening hours. She stressed that she and the other leaders of the week’s events hoped to turn around that perception.
“They don’t want to focus on violence or call it violence prevention,” Milstead said of the community leaders. “They want the focus to be [on] peace.”
That message isn’t lost upon one of the community leaders, Diwaine Smith. The 22-year-old works with Men Making a Change, a leadership group with the Long Beach Community Action Partnership. The overall aim of the group of young men is to promote peace and health in the local community, and the men are helping to organize the Be S.A.F.E. Long Beach Week.
“I want to change lives at this event,” Smith said in a telephone interview Tuesday. He acknowledged that there will be lots of entertainment scheduled, but he added that the week of events would be much more than a “carnival.” Smith highlighted the programs for youth and young adults that will offer recreational activities and even job connections. He emphasized the amount of support that will be offered to young men and women who are seeking positive influences.
Smith is on his own mission to promote peace in Long Beach because he is a survivor of violence himself. He said that he was shot and stabbed several years ago in Compton. He turned that life-changing event into a positive one.
Smith acknowledged that he didn’t let a moment of violence take him down a path of negativity. He readily credits his own support system where there were “people in his corner” to keep him going.
Now a resident of Long Beach, Smith works at Bixby Elementary School as a program leader.
Smith said he experienced an epiphany after he was hurt. He soon resolved to talk to communities and neighborhoods to stop violence and killing. He thinks about the problem of gangs. He hopes to reach out to the youth who are looking for a positive outlet.
“I would hope that people take from this event…the real true essence of peace,” he said.
Houghton Park is located at 6301 Myrtle Ave.