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Minnesota capital city takes on youth gun violence with summit

Wilbert Harris-McCalister, 19, was fatally shot in September in St. Paul’s Summit-University neighborhood as he sat in the back of a car.1 / 2
Dora Jones, executive director of the nonprofit Mentoring Young Adults2 / 2

ST. PAUL -- How are teenagers getting their hands on guns? What’s making them scared enough or mad enough to shoot them?

Those are among the questions that young people will be discussing at the Guns Down St. Paul – Youth Summit being held Saturday at the High School for Recording Arts in St. Paul. The event is open to youth, parents and community members.

“We’ll be really digging deep, talking about, ‘What does it take for us to help them put the guns down?’ ” said Dora Jones, executive director of the nonprofit Mentoring Young Adults, which is hosting the summit in collaboration with HSRA, St. Paul police, and the Ramsey County sheriff’s and attorney’s offices.

HSRA wanted to be part of the discussion, particularly because current and former students, along with staff members, have been killed in gun violence in the community over the years, said David “TC” Ellis, the school’s founder.

“We really have been heartbroken with some of the situations where people are random victims of gun violence,” Ellis said. “It happens not just with our students but throughout the community.”

Recent HSRA graduate Wilbert Harris-McCalister, 19,  was fatally shot in September in St. Paul’s Summit-University neighborhood as he sat in the back of a car.

Kalon Arden Harvey-Brown, a 23-year-old acquaintance of Harris-McCalister, was charged with robbery and illegal gun possession after a shootout allegedly broke out when Harvey-Brown and a juvenile were buying marijuana.

Harris-McCalister was a good student who tutored younger children, and the loss of his life highlights the need for Saturday’s summit, Ellis said.

“I think we really have to deeply analyze why youth feel that gun violence is an option, and I think we also have to provide opportunities for jobs and education that will tap into their passions and hopes,” he said.

As of Tuesday, 126 people had been shot in St. Paul this year, 10 of them fatally, according to St. Paul police statistics. More than half the people shot were between the ages of 15 and 25. There were 148 people shot during the same period last year.

Lewis McCaleb, the 20-year-old founder of Individuals With Dreams, has been reaching out to young people and encouraging them to attend.

“Due to the environment we grow up and live in, we get exposed to certain things,” said McCaleb, who graduated from HSRA and is now a project coordinator at the school. “It’s important for us to come together to bring awareness and come up with an action plan.”

Ramsey County Attorney John Choi said he’ll be speaking at the summit about the importance of community-based solutions.

“The police department is doing lots of things relative to enforcing our laws and clamping down on investigating shots-fired,” Choi said. “We have maintained strict prosecution policies with respect to people in possession of handguns who have been convicted of a prior felony. But that doesn’t really solve the problem when there are eruptions among groups of young people who are trying to settle scores with guns. I’m absolutely convinced the most powerful tool we have is the community being involved.”

Jones said she’s planning to hold another gun violence prevention summit in the spring.

On Saturday, organizers will be handing out T-shirts and buttons that say “Guns Down St. Paul” and asking young people to give the buttons to other youth, “so we can hopefully get a rippling effect through our community,” Jones said.