OAKLAND, Calif. (KTVU) - The city of Oakland is fighting violence by uniting the community. On July 6th, it launched its annual "Friday Summer Nights" program with free events in two areas hit hard by violence: East Oakland and West Oakland.
One of the events was held at Arroyo Viejo Park in East Oakland. Residents say it is a trouble spot for crime.
Organizers say stopping violence is complex, but that it starts with engaging the community.
At the Peace at the Park gathering, the mother of an eight-year-old boy says this event offers a safe haven. She says she's grateful that Oakland Unite, the city program responsible for this event, provides guidance
"To just stay focused in school and stay on his education," said Florence Stewart, the mother of a son who'll be starting third grade.
Children and young people have a variety of activities to enjoy, at a park that neighbors say has too often been occupied by criminal elements.
"You have drug dealers in the park as well as drug users and gang affiliated people who hang around the park," says Alyssa Ramos, a 17-year-old who lives near the park.
She is among the two dozen young people from this neighborhood and East Oakland whom the city has hired for the summer to help reclaim the park and other trouble spots. .
Ramos says she saw the victim of a deadly shooting in front of her home.
"Being so close to where I live, there's no way to avoid it," says the aspiring teacher who will be attending Cal State East Bay in the fall.
While Ramos can not avoid what happened, she says she and others can do their part in making their community safer.
17-year-old Michael White says he's lost a brother and a nephew, both teenagers, to gun violence in this neighborhood.
"Life ain't a game. One day you're here, one day you're gone. And that's why I wanted to get into this program, so hopefully, I can help people around the neighborhood that are thinking about doing bad stuff," says White, a youth worker for Oakland Unite.
The aspiring engineer says he wants to help change the course for himself and others.
Organizers say the city has held this free public event over the past eight summers.
"This is our chance to bring the community together and have a way to again interrupt violence," says Jessie Warberm, a planner for Oakland United.
It's one part of a multi-faceted approach to preventing violence.
"We really have to focus on the trauma and hurt people are experiencing. I really believe in the cliche that hurt people hurt people. But its' real and we have to start with the healing," said Peter Kim, interim director for Oakland's Department of Violence Prevention.
Organizers say that means outreach work with both victims and perpetrators with the goal of safety for everyone.
"It's not just me. There's a lot of kids out here. I don't want to see any of them get injured to gun violence," said White.
The Peace at the Park event will be held every Friday during the month of July,
It's part of a larger effort to engage neighbors to help stop the violence.
Organizers say the events are intended to disrupt violence by offering free activities in neighborhoods with high rates of violence.