ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — After the deadliest year on record in Rochester’s history in 2021, local anti-violence groups are working to change things in 2022.

In 2021, 81 people were killed and hundreds of shootings took place. More than 70 of those shootings involved victims under the age of 20, according to Rochester Police Department data.

With the summer months ahead, multiple groups are ramping up their efforts now to keep youth busy and off the streets.

Roc the Peace, a grassroots organization, has a youth program that is meeting every month on Friday nights. Children ages 5 and up can take part in different activities, receive a free meal, and talk to people about how they’re doing. Founder Sirena Cotton says most of the kids are at-risk. 

“They lost someone to either violence, suicide, or prison, and we bring them together and show them that there are other children that are going through the same thing they’re going through, and we have programs where we try to teach them to live a non-violent life,” Cotton said. 

Cotton started Roc the Peace after her own son was murdered when he was 16-years-old. Her goal is to reach kids at a young age and show them there are other paths than violence. 

“We have to catch them early. We can’t wait until they get to be a teenager and then try to teach him to live different,” Cotton said. “We have to catch them when they are a sponge and they’re soaking everything up.”

To help in their efforts, Roc the Peace has teamed up with the outreach ministry, Young & Gifted Global Ministries. This summer, the two groups will be providing a week-long camp for children, along with meeting them at REC centers and providing free meals and haircuts. 

“We just try to show up in spaces where we know kids are going to be, to talk to them about life,” said Pastor Sherita Traywick. “Even just talking to kids, and saying, ‘This is what you can be,’ or listening to them and encouraging them, I think it can turn the trajectory of where they’re going.”

Traywick adds parents, guardians, and community leaders need to be talking to kids about what is beyond the streets and the hope that is out there for them.

“I think that if you can see it, you can be it,” Traywick said. “My background is law. I’m a lawyer, and I never saw a black lawyer before until I saw Clair Huxtable on TV, and even though I didn’t know her, I saw and I attained for it.”

The two groups are hoping their efforts can lead children down a different path and give them the support they need at a young age. They also want to remind adults that there are numerous resources in Rochester to help.

“Fight for your kids, fight for your kids, fight for your family. If you need help, go to the schools, go to the churches, you knock until doors are open,” Traywick said. “To our young people, we’re asking for a ceasefire. Let’s live this summer. Let’s not die, let’s live this summer.”

Cotton adds the entire community needs to come together to help make Rochester a safer place for all.

“The community itself needs to start coming out, coming together. We have to start showing these children love, seeing what the problem is,” Cotton said. “It’s a lot of mental health, a lot of drugs and alcohol, and we need to dig deep into what’s really going on inside of them.” 

So far there have been 24 homicides in Rochester this year. You can find a list of community resources here.

You can also contact Roc the Peace by clicking here or calling 585-708-9787. 

Young & Gifted Global Ministries can be reached on their website, or by calling 585-502-8237. The non-profit provides food, clothing, and advocacy assistance.