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Mother pleads for help in preventing gang violence

Published: Apr. 21, 2021 at 10:47 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - A frustrated mother is making a call to action.

Yolanda, a mom of four, said she’s watching her youngest son head down a dangerous path. After being turned away from a handful of local organizations for help, she’s taking matters into her own hands.

Yolanda is building the blocks to create a nonprofit called Kill That Sh**. Each letter in the expletive has a meaning: Show How Important Togetherness is.

Yolanda explained she was intentional in choosing the name; opting for something catchy that would draw attention. She said in the past she tried to prevent gang activity by promoting messages like “stop the violence,’ but noticed on social media, posts with stronger messages received more engagement.

In a focused attempt to pull people into her message, she needed something punchy and relatable and the idea was born from personal experiences and losses.

Years ago, she said she was caught up in a life affiliated with gangs. She made tough decisions out of loneliness, immaturity, and what she thought would help her make a way for her children, but she ultimately paid for those decisions.

“I went to the Youth Center, Geneva Center for female juveniles, the county jail, and graduated to the feds. All because I wanted to be in a gang,” Yolanda said.

She spent eight years behind bars in federal prison, paying for the very mistakes she’s trying to prevent her 17-year-old son from making. But when she got out, Yolanda said she was faced with a harsh reality.

“The world was different. I was different, but I had to do what I had to do for those kids that didn’t ask to be here,” she said.

Upon her release, she was reunited with her then-11-year-old son, but she noticed his behavior changing around age 15.

She said she struggled to balance the guilt of lost time, trying to protect him and rebuilding their relationship.

“I never want to be mean to him because I didn’t want to be the big bad wolf,” Yolanda said. But when her son started skipping school and hanging with the wrong crowd, she knew she needed a village.

“I reached out, every which way, and asked for help. This is something African Americans really don’t do. We feel like we can do it ourselves,” she said.

Yolanda says she called several programs and begged truancy officers to pick him up after she learned he missed more than 100 days, but she kept hitting dead ends.

“Everybody told me no, so I decided I’m gonna leave. If I have to get up out of Nebraska to save his life that what I’m going to do,” she said.

After more hurdles, Yolanda decided enough was enough; she would put her ideas for a nonprofit — to give Omaha youth an outlet and access to safe activities — to paper.

So she called on everyone she knew for help: fellow mothers, leaders, community members, and business owners — including Shanta Smith.

Smith is the executive director and owner of V Red Medical Academy. It’s a nonprofit organization that helps inner-city students break into the medical field; located in the Center Mall, 1941 S. 42nd St.

“I help them find a job. I do their resume. They leave here with a certification in phlebotomy, medication aid, medical billing and coding, CPR certification,” Smith said.

Smith goes into the community and hands out her cards to young people anywhere she can reach them; whether it’s at a dollar store, gas station, or even fast-food restaurants.

Smith said if inner-city adolescents don’t have access to opportunities that promote independence or a way to earn money, that’s when street life can become appealing.

“I don’t see any advertisement in north Omaha. I don’t see any billboards with numbers on them for young people to call or for these parents to reach out to have an alternative for their young person to get into something,” Smith said.

“Whatever they need to keep their mind off gang banging; I’m gonna have it. I’m gonna find it. We’re gonna figure it out.” said Yolanda.

Yolanda said she also fears for her son’s safety because he was close to 21-year-old Trequez Smith, Omaha’s most recent homicide victim. Smith was shot and killed at Westroads Mall by alleged rival gang members.

Yolanda welcomes anyone with information, expertise, or resources that could help her continue to flesh out and build her non-profit organization to protect and support Omaha youth, to reach out to her via email.

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