Around 40 people gathered in the University of Connecticut’s Laurel Hall to attend Warren Hardy’s conversation on Hartford’s gun violence epidemic on Monday night, presented by the UConn Against Gun Violence student organization (UCAGV).
Hardy was born and raised in Hartford, and gained street knowledge in the ‘90s from one of Hartford’s notorious gangs, “20 Love.” Upon returning from a 12-year prison sentence for racketeering and gang affiliation in 2000, he began educating young men about the dangers of gang activity.
Hardy holds a B.A. in Human Services from Springfield College and is the founder and CEO of H.Y.P.E. (Helping Young People Evolve). He serves on the Board of Directors of the Connecticut Center for Nonviolence, and has given talks and facilitated workshops at schools such as Harvard, Yale and Trinity College, as well as public schools in Hartford, New Britain and Rockville.
“My goal is to go for your heart, because I believe that’s the best way to move a person,” Hardy said to the audience. “I hope you leave a different person than when you came in.”
Hardy cited his own experience with gun violence while growing up as one of his motivations for choosing to devote his life to helping children facing similar situations.
“Before I even picked up a gun, I remember seeing my aunt get beaten until she was unrecognizable, and I ended up stabbing the person who beat her up. At age 12, I witnessed my first shooting right in my backyard. I was standing there in awe, and just watching a person get shot,” Hardy said.
Hardy spoke on the fact that people are often ignorant to what’s going on around them, and can blame others’ wrongdoings for the things that happen to them.
“Sometimes we can be so far removed from whatever is going on that we think that we’re safe. We think that bad things only happen to bad people, that they asked for it,” Hardy said. “Don’t attack the person, attack the problem.”
A common theme of the discussion was encouraging people to reach out of their comfort zones to help others.
“Every day there should be some sort of uncomfortableness that you need to deal with. Comfort doesn’t put you in a position of growth,” Hardy said. “We have to talk, we have to reach out. We can’t stay in our comfort zones.”
At one point in the presentation, Hardy distributed cards with various experiences that children may be dealing with written on them, such as “I’m depressed all the time” and “I’m hungry but there’s no food in the house.” He asked everyone at the presentation to read them out loud, as if they were the person experiencing the issue.
“Despite what the media is saying, despite what you see and hear, our young kids need help,” Hardy said. He noted the activities that his organization has done with children who are in high-risk situations.
“We do community cleanups with kids on a regular basis. We do barbecues, basketball tournaments, and sometimes volunteer to feed the homeless. We volunteer to read to the elderly,” Hardy said.
Hardy concluded the event by stressing that everyone can play a role in helping children get out of the tough situations they’re in.
“When talking about these issues, it starts with what you do as individuals,” Hardy said. “We all have something to contribute. We all have something unique to bring to the table.”
Students in attendance noted the impact that Hardy’s background had, as well as the ways in which they viewed the presentation.
“It was really interesting to have someone who has experienced all of this to talk about it, because so often you get people who only know about it. It’s more personal to have someone here to talk about it who has actually lived through it,” Rachel Reed, an eighth-semester human development and family studies and sociology double major said.
“I come from an area where I’m familiar with and know some friends firsthand who have dealt with these kinds of experiences, so I thought about it through a perspective of ‘what can I do to help,’” Alif Al-Biruni, a fourth-semester computer science major said. “In particular, I thought about what I can do to help even though my background isn’t directly connected with that of the people who I grew up with.”
UCAGV meets for regular meetings every other Monday at 7p.m. in Laurel Hall Room 107. For more information, visit the organization’s Facebook page or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gabriella Debenedictis is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at email@example.com.