Just Think 1st and local filmmakers join community to build awareness and share solutions

– Kayla Morin

‘Vulnerability’ is often used to describe people prone to harm– but being vulnerable can also be one’s greatest strength.

That’s what attendees of the Just Think 1st video launch held in conjunction with RISE (Reaching Intelligent Souls Everywhere) got to see at the Burrows Hall Community Centre in Scarborough Monday, September 19, 2016. 

The crowd was a diverse mixture of young and old, men and women, poets, filmmakers, dancers and other artists, educators and community workers, media and police– with the black community well-represented.

A multifaceted initiative that seeks to save lives and resolve gun violence in Toronto, Just Think 1st launched a series of five PSA videos on gun violence at the open mic event. The videos, directed by some of the most influential filmmakers in the 6ix, are part of the initiative’s first wave, to build engagement and awareness.

Just Think 1st founders Farley Flex and Roderick Brereton hosted the video screening portion of the evening as special guests, leading what they call a ‘Crowd Solving’ approach to the issue of death by bullet in the community.

“The visual for that is ants moving a leaf,” said Flex. “You don’t just see two thousand ants sitting on the side chilling, saying, ‘yeah bro, let me know when you get over that tree,’ everyone is participating.”

Already working with the Toronto Police Service, Just Think 1st has a plan to bring all major players in Toronto ‘to the table’ to resolve this global issue through proactive partnership.

“Obviously the ultimate thing is to save lives,” noted Flex, “another integral part of this is the integration of conflict management training at an early stage, and I’m talking elementary school.”

“The next step is how to think,” he added.

Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders attended the event, pleased to support a campaign addressing this pressing challenge in the city, “Gunplay has increased,” Saunders says, “more people are getting shot, access to firearms seems to be on the rise, and more people are turning to using guns to resolve disputes.”

Flex and Brereton led a silent, interactive activity called ‘Stand Up and Look Around’ which showed who in the room had training in conflict management, had experienced trauma from gun violence, and who believed they have something to contribute, among other revelations, ultimately giving people a heightened awareness of themselves and everyone present.

“Even if it hasn’t happened to yourself,” remarked Brereton, “it has happened to somebody you know in the community, and there is an impact that resonates within all of us.”

Flex and Brereton facilitated open discussion throughout the event, so anyone could stand up and speak at any time, a tenet which inspired one young man to speak out about his journey through being bullied to unequivocal self-love, and encourage others to share their story.

“Through self-evaluation and self-awareness it just became very clear to me that my life matters just as much as anybody in this room. So just being passive, people don’t really notice just how damaging that can be to others,” he said.

Director Chris Strikes shared that in his film “Always Another Option,” when the protagonist chooses an illicit lifestyle, he de-values not only his quality of life, but that of his loved ones as well. 

Thankfully, the man stops to #JustThink1st.

“What is it all worth if you’re not there for those important moments?” Strikes said. “Really and truly, in the street life, there are no wins.”

The PSA videos and discussion touched on many themes surrounding the issue of gun violence– the effect on youth and need for positive guidance, the dehumanization of black lives, the impulse to retaliate, the role of women as equal to men in halting destructive behaviours– every voice was heard.

Brereton emphasized the crucial role of ‘the bystander.’ 

“When you know somebody who is in that circumstance, who maybe on the cusp of doing something, you have a responsibility to talk to that person,” he stated. “You have a responsibility. Because when and if they do carry out that action, you are duly responsible too.”

Local community engagement consultant Marsha Brown, notices people often see an incident in the news, and there’s an outcry, but then nothing else.

“Unless you get involved, unless you physically get out to these forums and say your piece and let people know that you share their concern and a passion for youth and for what’s happening, then you’re just a sound, Brown says.

“If you’re not physically here you’re just a sound, and it’s time to not be a sound. It’s time to have a presence, and that’s where the difference comes in.”

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