At speak-out, Albany youth feel the weight of community violence

Xji -Anne Hudson isn’t often at a loss for words.

“I’m usually a person that you give me a topic and I can go on and on and on. If I could rap I could make amazing songs,” she said. “But when you ask me about gun violence in my communities and you ask me about the solutions to the problems in my community I’m speechless. My heart is heavy and my eyes are so watery.”

At a speak-out held at the South End Night Market last week, Hudson found those words. After pausing for a moment of silence and taking a deep breath, they began to flow. 

“My spirit honestly has been very heavy the past couple of days,” she said.

She remembers going to summer camp with Chyna Forney, the 18-year-old that was killed on Essex Street earlier this month from a bullet meant for someone else. Police are now charging another 18-year-old for that shooting — a young man whose mother said he and Forney “were like brother and sister“. He is pleading not guilty.

It was one of five fatal shootings in Albany last month. 

“If you ever saw a firefly in the night dancing across the field that’s what that girl was. She was an electricity that went unmatched on the field and on the stage and she had a spirit and energy that will never be duplicated in this universe again,” she said. “And she is gone from out of our community and she is gone from her peer’s lives and her mother’s life and her sibling’s lives… for senseless violence.”

Hudson, who is 20-years-old, pointed out how many of the victims of violence are younger than her — in Forney’s case only by two years. But those two years weigh heavily on her.

“A lot of these lives are younger than a lot of us standing here today,” she said. “These are young people that look to us. These are young people that are lost in their communities because we failed them.”

Hudson is an alum of YouthFX programming and has since gone on to help organize the community group E.L.E.V.A.T.E 518. The two organizations joined Project TRY and Youth Political Alliance to host the speak-out.

“Me being two years, three years, five years older than these young girls… I’m the type of woman that these young girls are looking to outside of their mothers. The young boys that are shooting in our communities… these are the men that they look to that are failing. You’re failing your youth. I’m holding y’all accountable. You are failing me. You are not passing the torch down to me. I have no fire to give our youth.”

She said there needs to be more channels where young people can turn that fire towards creative and athletic activities — recognizing that it’s also up to her generation to step in as role models where older community members haven’t.

“It doesn’t take a 10 years difference to drop some knowledge. It doesn’t take years and years of lifetimes to pour into the youth,” she said. “You could teach your younger brothers, younger sisters, things that your mother could never teach.”

Hudson then painted a picture of what it’s like to be young and lost in Albany:

“Those are your neighbors. Those are the kids that live in your basements and on the first floor. And those are the kids that live above you. Those are the kids that you go ‘why are they running across the street?’ when you’re just trying to get to work.

The children in our community need us and they don’t know how to ask for help. And I’m saying that from experience. They think that you are out of reach, they think you are unavailable. You keeping up that narrative of being unavailable for our youth because you’re so caught up in your nine to five. You’re so caught up in your relationship. You’re so caught up in your religion that you forgot the youth. So deny the fact that you’re working to keep the roof over the head… it’s not gonna matter when your child doesn’t come home because you’ve got to teach them the importance of family and love and community. You forgot to give them a reason to come home. This is why they turn to the streets.”

You have to call somebody, and they let you ring out and go to voicemail. How you feel? Now imagine that without phones, imagine being in an adult’s face, seeing that face to face, looking in their eyes, and then being not emotionally available.

Imagine a young girl who wants to know how to dance, and you’re doing the dance, but you’re not teaching her how to do the dance. Because all these kids want to do. That’s it. They want to do their art. They want to sing their songs, and they want and most importantly, they want to be children. 

I’ve seen it firsthand. I’ve seen the child walk away from the home in search of a longing of a love that they weren’t getting at home. And I’m not talking about home with Mommy, Daddy, sisters and brothers physically in the house. I’m talking in our school systems where they spend eight hours a day you can’t feel love through a zoom call. Trust me my sister lives in Virginia, you can’t feel love through a Zoom call. You can’t feel a hug through a Zoom call. I can’t feel you behind the glass and a mask and a microphone.”

Hudson ended with a plea to the community:

“Now I challenge each and every one of you because you’ve made the time here today to be here to hold space for those that are already gone… don’t wait until they’re gone,” she said.

“Teach them how to dance while they’re still here.”

Patrick Dodson
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