DETROIT Searches for Peace
Group aims to short-circuit violence that kills city youths
IN 1986, 365 children aged 16 and younger were killed or wounded by guns in Detroit. That was the year one of Clementine Barfield's sons - Derick, 16 - was killed by another teenager.
Her three sons had set out that evening to confront a boy who had earlier pulled a gun on Derick after he had talked to the youth's girlfriend. When the Barfields' car approached the boy and a group of his friends, it was met by a hail of bullets from a 9-mm pistol. All three of Mrs. Barfield's sons were hit. Derick was killed instantly.
That shooting could have become another statistic from America's urban battlegrounds. But Derick's mother was not going to let that happen: "I knew I wanted to do something, but I didn't know exactly what, to validate my son's worth." In early 1987, her ideas crystalized with the founding of Save Our Sons and Daughters (SOSAD), a nonprofit grass-roots agency devoted to countering the culture of violence among Detroit's youths and to comforting families that have lost children.
In the years since then, SOSAD has established a 24-hour telephone hot line, as well as an array of counseling programs. The group has also sponsored marches, vigils, and rallies to dramatize the city's losses from violence.
On Feb. 3, Barfield, her staff, and about 200 supporters gathered at the corner of Joy Road and Evergreen Road in west Detroit. There, in late January, 16-year-old Darnell Byrd had died after being shot by some boys who wanted his jacket.
"There have been over 12,000 homicides in Detroit in the past 20 years," Barfield says. "We can't survive like this. We have to get people to place value on themselves, to get all kids to buy into it and become part of the struggle." The flow of teens into SOSAD's offices on West Grand Boulevard indicates that many of the city's younger generation are buying Barfield's message.