Conference empowering youth not to get involved in violence and gangs



THIS week, over 200 researchers, policymakers, police officers, parents, youth and community members met to discuss how to reinforce strengths in youth that would prevent their involvement in violence and gangs.

Building on research conducted over the past five years, Acting Together (AT-CURA) – a federally funded research project based at Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU) – hosted a three-day conference in Surrey that focused on the sustainable ways in which communities could empower youth to make positive life choices.

Titled Youth Strengths and Prevention of Delinquency and Gang Involvement: Academics and Community Acting Together, the conference presented research, strategies and ideas to a sold-out audience on topics including: how focusing on strengths equips youth for lifelong success, how to build strengths in youth, the work of Acting Together, nurturing youth resilience and ending gang life. The conference will end with a moderated panel on bridging policy and practice.

“Our youth are our future. Ensuring their well-being is our collective responsibility. Parents, police, policymakers, teachers, front line workers and academic researchers must all work together to protect our youth from wandering down the dark alleys of a dangerous life in gangs,” said Dr. Gira Bhatt, the project team director and principal investigator of AT-CURA.

Keynote speakers and plenary session leaders included academics internationally recognized for their research, professionals with decades of experience working with youth, and individuals who have experienced first-hand the consequences of when violence and gangs meet a lack of awareness and education.

“The remarkable work of the AT-CURA project and academic researchers at KPU, in conjunction with the support and partnership of the various police agencies in B.C., and community leaders in the province, has resulted in the development and implementation of a number of gang-prevention initiatives in the community,” said RCMP Acting Assistant Commissioner Dan Malo. “By arming the public with information derived from years of research, we are empowering the community to take a stand against gangs, as well as deterring youth from falling prey to organized crime.”

Dr. Bhatt and Dr. Roger Tweed, co-investigator and lead research for academic studies with Acting Together, led the conference programs.

They were joined by the RCMP Chief Superintendent Dan Malo; Dr. Michael Ungar, an internationally recognized youth resilience researcher based at Dalhousie University and co-director of the Resilience Research Centre; Dr. Robert Biswas-Diener, author of several books on positive psychology for professionals, happiness and courage, and; Dr. Kimberley Schonert-Reichl, applied developmental psychology and associate professor in the department of educational and counselling psychology and special education at UBC.

Author Katy Hutchison was the event’s community forum keynote. Now a professional speaker, Hutchison has shared her story of forgiveness at TEDx, and across Canada via print, radio and television. Her book Walking After Midnight: One Woman’s Journey Through Murder, Justice and Forgiveness details her journey through the trauma of family tragedy and healing. Hutchison has been an advocate for educating youth and communities of the risks associated with unsupervised alcohol consumption by young people.

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Acting Together received a $1-million Community-University Research Alliance award from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) of Canada in 2009. The project’s research has identified factors that potentially protect youth from violence and gang involvement, and has helped develop community-wide strategies derived from those findings. The KPU-led project has championed and led unprecedented collaboration between service agencies, community organizations, government and academic institutions across the region. Learn more at: