Violence is a reality in Medellin. Its history of drug wars and civil unrest are well documented. When you walk around Medellin, you can see the impact that violence has had on individuals, communities and indeed, all of Colombia.
I knew this coming to Medellin and while my employer, the YMCA of Greater Toronto, did its due diligence in explaining the risks, I felt comfortable with my research and decision to come here. In fact, I can say with 100% honesty that in the combined four weeks I have spent in Colombia in the past year, not once have I felt unsafe or at risk (minus a bit of a scary taxi ride, but that’s no different than in Toronto).
Sadly, I have come to know the face of violence in Medellin during this work exchange. This past Sunday a young rap artist named Daniel Alejandro Sierra, also know as Yheil, was murdered in Comuno 13. He was well known and liked by the youth, volunteers and staff of the ACJ.
Yheil’s murder is also the second since I arrived in Medellin. On March 13, another young hip hop artist, Fernando Romero David, also know as Gordo, was murdered in his home in Comuno 13.
Yheil and Gordo join Hector Pacheco Marmolejo “Colacho”, Andres Felipe Medina and Pepper Marcelo “Chelo” as victims of murder in Comuna 13 in the past year. All of these young men were involved in progressive hip hop and artistic movements that promoted peaceful conflict resolution.
The threat to life and integrity of young people is a significant issue for Medellin. The Instituto Popular de Capacitacion (the People’s Training Institute) reports that In the last two years, 1,982 youth between the ages of 11 and 25 years have been murdered (mostly young men).
The IPC shows that the vulnerability of Medellin’s younger population is increasing, especially among minors. Between January 2009 and February 2011, deaths of youth between 11 and 17 years of age have increased by 478%.
This is staggering to me. I really have no way of making meaning or sense of this…it’s a reality that I have never experienced before.
So what happens when violence strikes? The youth of Medellin and their allies strike back.
Today, along with my friends from the ACJ and about 1,500 other people, I joined in an anti-violence march through downtown Medellin. For over four hours, we walked, chanted slogans and rallied to raise awareness and change for the youth of Medellin. I’ve included a series of photos below.
Of all the things I have done during my time in Medellin, I can honestly say that this was the most important. It was important for me to be there as a representative of a partnering organization to demonstrate my support and understanding of the issues young people face in Medellin to my YMCA colleagues. But more importantly, it was important that I stood next to my friends in solidarity, to share in their sorrow and fight along side them for a brighter future.