Today's headlines are tragic. Reports of youth violence and drug use are as common as revelations of government scandals. And statistics show that these headlines don't indicate mere isolated incidents. Incredible as it seems, each day eight youths are killed in car accidents due to drugs or alcohol, each year 5,500 young people are murdered, and 12 million teenagers drink alcohol.
Enter Safe Night USA. Started in 1993 by Olusegun Sijuwade, a former Milwaukee, WI, police officer and current public health educator for the Milwaukee Health Department, the Safe Night program strives to teach young adults to deal with anger and to resolve conflicts without violence. Safe Night parties also provide young people with secure places to go where a fun time can be had without drugs or alcohol.
In Milwaukee, Safe Nights have worked. The overall juvenile murder rate dropped 27 percent in the program's first year alone. And youth violent-injury admissions at Milwaukee Children's Hospital dropped to zero on many of the evenings that citywide Safe Nights were held.
"Safe Night is a simple idea that can make places like emergency rooms a lot less crowded," says actor Scot Anthony Robinson, a Safe Night spokesperson. Adds Bradford DeShawn Handley, who plans Safe Nights for Milwaukee's Social Development Commission, "Safe Night saves lives."
Safe Night's local success has inspired its founders to take the idea nationwide. Handley is a vocal proponent of this national movement, largely because of a life the program didn't save. That life belonged to a buddy who had left Milwaukee to go to college in St. Louis, MO. "I was at a Safe Night when my mother called me to tell me he had been shot and killed," Handley says. "I can't help thinking that he might be alive today if St. Louis had Safe Night. Now, every time I'm at a Safe Night, it's like he's there, too." Safe Night is about "changing lives," he concludes.
This year, on June 5, 1999, thousands of communities across the country will be holding Safe Night parties. Local PBS and Black Entertainment Television affiliates will be broadcasting from many of the Safe Nights. Safe Night USA has set a nationwide goal of 10,000 Safe Nights involving four million children. And the Elks have committed to join this effort.
Safe Night USA and the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks share a common goal-to create the best possible future for our young people. The Elks National Foundation and the Elks Drug Awareness Education Program are encouraging local Lodges to hold Safe Nights on June 5 and help the Order meet its commitment to America's Promise to host drug-free parties in 2,000 Lodge communities by the year 2000. The Foundation-funded Elks Drug Awareness Education Program even offered to reimburse reasonable Safe Night program-related expenses up to $200 for all Lodges that pledged to participate by March 15. (The offer is available on a first-come, first-served basis to Lodges that pledge after March 15. Contact the Elks National Foundation for more information.)
If you're interested in holding a Safe Night in your community, make sure that your Elks National Foundation or drug awareness chairman has notified the Foundation. Then get to work! Approach youth groups in your area and ask youth leaders to help you plan your Safe Night. The most successful Safe Nights are the ones in which youths and adults work together, jointly planning activities and organizing speakers to talk about the drug and violence issues that many young people face today.
Help with planning is available from the Wisconsin-based Safe Night USA. By calling the organization toll free at 1-800-942-3723, you can obtain a Getting Started Planning Guide, a Safe Night Community Media Kit, and a Safe Night Activities Guidebook that contains educational programs designed for different ages, group sizes, and community settings.
The rules of Safe Nights are simple: no weapons, no drugs or alcohol, and no arguments. These are the three most common factors involved in acts of violence. Join the Elks National Foundation and the Elks Drug Awareness Education Program in supporting Safe Night in your area. Help make good things happen after dark in your community.
For the 1999-2000 Lodge year, the Elks National Foundation granted $674,500 to completely fund the Elks Drug Awareness Education Program, including the printing and shipping of millions of pieces of educational literature. In addition, many states use part of their charitable grants from the Elks National Foundation to fund statewide drug awareness programs.