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Community opens doors to give KC teens safe place to hang out

Posted at 9:49 PM, Dec 27, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-27 23:23:35-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — St. Regis Academy opened its doors Friday night to middle school students in an effort to prevent violence in Kansas City.

Students were able to play basketball, paint pictures, play games and hang out in a safe, crime-free environment from 6 to 10 p.m.

"We are concerned about the violence in our city," Glen Ernstmann, vice president of the Hickman Mills Community Alliance, said. This is "a program to keep kids off the streets, basically. Give them a safe environment to have fun activities."

Ernstmann and others call it "Lights on KC."

It's modeled after the "Lights On" program at West Side High School in Newark, New Jersey, which gave students somewhere safe to hang out on Friday nights. It was so successful, the school opened its gym to students three nights a week.

"We believe that if it was successful there preventing violence, then it's worth replicating in Kansas City," Cassandra Wainright, president of the Concerned Clergy Coalition of Kansas City, said.

Friday's program marked the third Lights on KC event. While this event targeted middle school students, other programs have been tailored to high school students and young adults in their early 20s.

One-third of all homicide victims and suspects this year in Kansas City, Missouri, are teens or individuals in their early 20s.

"I wish that it would stop," seventh-grader Yasmine Johnson said.

Her brother, Travon Johnson, added, "Too many people are dying for no reason."

Lights on KC is a collation of local organizations, including the Hickman Mills Community Alliance, St. Regis parish, St Luke's United Methodist Church, Mid-Continent Public Library, Aim4Peace, Mom's Demand Action and the Concerned Clergy Coalition of KC.

The groups are looking for other organizations to partner with.

"It's really an anti-violence program. That's what at the heart of it all," Ernstmann said.