In the middle of an event celebrating the beginning of a new school year and new opportunities, Charia Samuel is preparing for a funeral. Her nephew was murdered Friday night.
"He helped his friend's mom. Her boyfriend was beating on her, and him and the best friend broke up the fight. He left and came back and shot them up," she said. "I'm so sick about it. It makes me want to go get ... a gun permit because I don't feel safe anymore."
Stories like hers are becoming far too common throughout Detroit. The city is on track to reach the highest murder rate it's seen in a decade, but despite the grim numbers there are some who are stepping up, fighting back and creating solutions.
"I've seen a spike in crime, but we're doing all that we can as police officers to eliminate as much crime as possible," said Detroit Police Officer Geoffrey Townsend.
He knows the streets well and he knows the challenges so many young people are facing.
"My daughter was born when I was 15. I ended up married at 18, had three kids at 21 and I was divorced and homeless at 25," Townsend said.
At 27, he transformed his life and became a police officer. For eleven years now Officer Townsend has been helping other young people do the same with a program called Reality Check Detroit.
"I wanted other children to avoid some of the pitfalls that I went through, so that's actually why I started the program," he said.
Townsend said more than 800 kids between the ages of six and 14 have been through the program.
Nakia Sweat said Officer Townsend played a major role in helping her once troubled daughter succeed.
"Coming up to the school, coming to the house and just basically staying in her life throughout the years and just being concerned," she said. "Now, my other children are growing up and seeing him, so it's good. It's a good presence."
"Once you help one child, he or she is going to help one other child and the domino effect continues," said Townsend.
No one is saying this is the solution to ending violence, but it is a step and if more people just took one step, people like Officer Townsend say it would definitely make a difference.
"I think people need to give back. I think people need to just volunteer their time," Townsend told FOX 2's Alexis Wiley.
The Peace Project
"If you're raised around a violent environment and all you really know … is to hurt someone, of course things could escalate over nothing really fast," said 20-year-old Olando Jones.
The recent spike in murders in Detroit has left everyone asking one question. What can be done to stop the violence? So we decided to take that question to a group of young people who know the price of violence all too well and have still found a way to overcome it.
"What I'm learning from it is that anybody can make the world better," said eleven-year-old Mataya McInis.
The Peace Project is an organization that we formed that's designed to engage our young people in improving their lives and their community," said Al Taylor.
Through projects such as poetry, art and community service, young people are learning that they matter and that they can make a difference. They're hoping to spread the word to other young people throughout Detroit giving them an option other than a life of violence.
"To start, recognize that this isn't right and you should have better and you have to create it for yourself. So, that's what we set out to do," Taylor said.
"I think everybody has a voice. I think everybody has a story, and I believe a lot of talent can be cultivated," said 18-year-old Kenneth Williams.
WJBK-TV | Fox 2
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