Peace in Mind

Peace in Mind

Worried about the future? Meet the youth of Ice the Beef. They know what they want to do: speak out against gun violence, register voters, spread positivity. Last month they gathered funding from 17 sponsors and stuffed hundreds of backpacks full of school supplies for New Haven children. They’re capable and wise beyond their years. Talking with them is like talking with hope itself.

Take, for example, the group’s newest member, an eighth-grader named A.J., who lost a cousin to gun violence. “That kind of made me rethink everything, and one day I was just thinking in my room, like, ‘This can’t happen again,’” he says. “I want to change the community. And I want to be a kid and be known so other kids can start doing this, too. So other people will start rethinking stuff, too. So this won’t keep happening.”

sponsored by

The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven

At a recent gathering—held at the home of Ice the Beef’s president and youth leader, Chaz Carmon, since the usual spot in Goffe Street Park/De Gale Field is under renovation—five students got to work planning future events. Also attending was Armand Cobb, the volunteer art director they’d recently interviewed and hired to help them design posters, flyers, t-shirts and whatever else they need. Included on the agenda: brainstorming questions for weekly forums on community policing, women’s empowerment and jobs sponsored by a student wellness program at Southern Connecticut State University; speaking at criminal justice classes at the University of New Haven; planning fall events including an ongoing voter registration drive in Fair Haven. More informally, the group also meets three times a week for “sharing stories, laughing, joking, and expressing feelings,” as the youth contingent’s Facebook page puts it.

Parent organization Ice the Beef was founded by New Havener Darrell Allick, a.k.a. D. Russ, who was, locally, “one of the biggest drug dealers in the last 30-some years,” Carmon says. As he tells the story, Allick experienced an overnight religious conversion after the murder of his brother in 2011 that motivated him to work for change. Ice the Beef’s first mission was bereavement support, helping families of gunshot victims by offering emotional care at the hospital and, when someone died, funds for a funeral and burial. “It was very, very, very important work that they were doing,” Carmon says. Allick also leveraged his connections and community respect to mediate conflicts on the street. “He would sit down with the two head honchos and sit them together and have a conversation,” Carmon says. “Out of respect for him and this mediation, it would stop the beef.”

Carmon, too, was in trouble with the law at a young age. Arrested for drug trafficking and on his way to prison, his life was turned around by a mentor from his childhood at the YMCA, who gave him a job monitoring the game room there. Carmon got to know the kids and brought in new games. One day he missed work, and the next day, they told him they’d almost stolen a car. “I never missed a day after that,” he says. When Allick approached him to become Ice the Beef’s new president, he agreed on the condition that he could do the kind of work he felt called to do, and the spinoff group Ice the Beef Youth was born.

Some of the group’s young members are already leaders in their own right. Manuel Camacho, a sophomore at Hillhouse High School, is president of Ice the Beef Youth as well as president of its newly formed Latino Caucus. He’s spoken at rallies and marched for peace. He leads from experience. As a child growing up in Trenton and Camden, New Jersey, Camacho says he witnessed shootings and “full-on brawls” in the streets. “So, as a kid going through that, experiencing it, to me it was normal.” Today, he can say he’s grateful for that experience “because it pushed my drive that much more.”

Next up for Ice the Beef Youth is accepting an award from Bereavement Care Network at its annual Peace Mobile Caravan and Rally on September 26 in New Haven. On October 4, the youth will join Ice the Beef’s Middletown chapter for a caravan and march to raise awareness about gun violence, domestic violence and the opioid crisis in that city. They also plan to run a series of voter registration drives in Fair Haven and an October 3 event at Roberto Clemente Field in the Hill. Ideas for that day include handing out informational pamphlets on where to get help for a variety of issues, distributing food to the needy and offering COVID testing. Camacho and Latino Caucus vice president Kassandra Martel, a senior at Hillhouse, outlined their ideas for that event at the meeting while secretary Jose Carrion, a Sound School sophomore, took notes. Brian Starbird, a Hillhouse junior, agreed to speak at an event.

The earlier generation of kids Carmon once mentored at the Y are now in their 30s and “all doing great,” he says. Now a new generation is forging ahead, with Carmon’s help, both as a volunteer and professionally. Today he works as an in-school solutions coordinator—helping implement a new approach to suspensions—at Barnard Environment Studies Interdistrict Magnet School.

“I realized the only true way to stop is to empower our future people, our youth and young adults,” Carmon says. “Empower them to be able to think wisely, make positive decisions and realize that… a gun ain’t the way.”

Ice the Beef Youth
403 Sherman Pkwy, New Haven (map)
(203) 850-4847
Facebook Page

Written and photographed by Kathy Leonard Czepiel. From left, clockwise, image features Kassandra Martel, Brian Starbird, Chaz Carmon, Manuel Camacho, Jose Carrion and Armand Cobb.

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