Teens planning Naperville town hall on gun violence
Members of a group of Naperville-area teens who drew roughly 300 people to their first town hall about gun violence are hosting another.
Our Safety, led by students from Waubonsie and Neuqua Valley high schools, is planning the free, public event for 6 to 8:30 p.m. Friday at the 95th Street Library, 3015 Cedar Glade Road, Naperville.
The idea is to allow people from Naperville, Aurora and Chicago a chance to ask elected officials, activists and a police officer about gun violence, gang violence and how both are affected by mental health, said Aaryan Menon, a board member of Our Safety.
"A lot of kids are afraid to go to school because there is a risk of a gun shooting happening in their school, or what happens if a kid is not mentally stable?" Aaryan said. "We wanted to focus on, let's make sure students are at least feeling safe to go to school."
Six panelists are scheduled to speak at the event, and no questions will be prepared or given to them in advance, Aaryan said.
Members of the panel include Justin Karubas, a school board member in Indian Prairie Unit District 204, which includes Waubonsie and Neuqua; state Rep. Barbara Hernandez, an Aurora Democrat; Michael Lawler, a trustee and deputy mayor in Bolingbrook; Ameena Matthews, a Chicago activist; Tio Hardiman, a Chicago activist; and Sgt. Elena Deuchler of the Naperville Police Department.
Karubas said his message will be about steps the district of 27,400 students is taking to promote social/emotional well-being and mental health.
"That's the best area for us on the school side to try to minimize violence generally and gun violence particularly," Karubas said.
He said District 204 hired roughly a dozen new social workers this year and amended its district goals. Instead of saying the No. 1 goal is to help students grow academically, the statement now says the district aims to "help all students grow socially, emotionally and academically."
"Its symbiotic," Karubas said. "There are limits academically if you don't have the social or emotional skills or supports to deal with rigorous academics."
Aaryan said he has heard vague threats around Waubonsie and students making light of the possibility of gun violence.
"In reality, it's not a joke," he said. "We live in a society that's so fragile that even saying a term like that can invoke a lot of scare."
Our Safety has promoted the event with a broad range of groups including the Illinois State Rifle Association and local branches of the National Rifle Association, the National Organization for Women and Moms Demand Action For Gun Sense in America. That way, Aaryan said, he hopes the audience will consist of people with different views and different questions.
"We're an independent group; we don't support either side of the argument," he said. "We just want to hear both sides."