Coordinators say they hope the event will prevent crime while promoting healing for students affected by a fatal stabbing on a Stockton high school campus.
STOCKTON, Calif. — After 20 homicide cases in just four months, some young Stockton residents have become familiar with the yellow crime tape scenes and police lights.
For people like Brittany Bobian, a community leader in Stockton, the eruption of violent crime earlier this year led to a need for creative solutions to engage the younger generation, who are likely to be involved and affected by the violence.
“These politicians, they’re very out of touch. Even some of these other organizers, they’re very out of touch with what’s really going on here,” Bobian said.
In 2018, after seeing an increase in shootings in Stockton, Bobian and other members of the community got together and created a program called “Balls on balls.”
The mission and method of the group at the launch was simple: organize impromptu water balloon fights in schools and public spaces to encourage young people to spend time with water balloons and positive activities instead of balls and violence.
“It was the quickest, easiest, and cheapest way to get the kids out of the house and kind of give them that moment of relief.” said Bobian. “It’s actually evolved into something more than that, because it’s like a conditioning system where we get the community and the people to kind of see the village that they’ve overlooked.”
After the city of Stockton topped 20 homicides in 2022 with the death of 15-year-old Stagg High School student Alycia Reynaga, Bobian and organizers knew it was time to act.
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The group has decided to start its annual summer events weeks earlier, hosting unique water balloon awareness and battle events at five Stockton high schools from May 2.
Bobian said it all started with a quick call to his fellow coordinators.
“I called them and said, ‘It’s 2018 again,’ so we have to bring the same energy, but this time we’re a lot bigger,” Bobian said. “The kids need it, and it pushes us even more now, especially since there has been no real reaction or anything (done) for any of the kids.”
On Monday, the group announces that it will hold its event at Bear Creek High School, followed by Chavez High School on Tuesday, Edison High School on Wednesday, Franklin High School on Thursday and ending at Stagg High School on Friday.
“We’re just going to pull over just as they get out of school and have a water balloon fight and basically a little party in the parking lot,” Bobian said. “It’s not just Stagg that’s affected by what’s going on, it’s every high school and I don’t think we pay that much attention to high school kids.”
When the water starts flying, the coordinators say that’s when the connections start.
“That’s when you have the time to love the kids, to talk to them, to ask them questions,” Bobian said. “It’s a disconnect from the stress of reality, and then you can reconnect them to the community, to the people who love them.”
In addition to hosting a play truck, food vendors and local performers at after-school events next week, the group has partnered with local pastors and trauma healing organizations who will provide services and resources.
“It was just going to be us, but now we’re like, ‘OK, we have to bring in more resources,'” Bobian said. “We’re going to have boxes of food, people over there from Lighthouse Healing Services, people over there who (the students) can talk to.”
With warm weather predicted for Stockton next week, Bobian says the band’s original method of connecting with young people through a water balloon fight and through engagement will always take priority.
“Today, kids still see us even when I don’t have a Balloons over Bullets t-shirt. They’re like, ‘Hey, do you have any other water balloons?’ It’s that transactional relationship,” Bobian said. “I think people get excited when they see 10,000 water balloons – if they’ve never seen anything like that – so that little bit of hope and relief is something we’re proud of.”
For some Stockton students, the approach of summer vacation will also bring an influx of free time.
Bobian and others hope their event will help students recover from what has been a difficult school year for many, leaving them with hope and positive activity for the next three months.
“It’s the end of the year and we want to give them a little something to set the tone for summer,” Bobian said. “People will have meetings all day about (the crime) and I’m like, ‘Well, while you’re having these meetings, people are really affected’, and that’s why it’s important for people to do this. more.”
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