Del Paso Heights mothers join battle against violence, child deaths

Mothers of the 95838 pull together to defeat violence

Women affected by violence in Del Paso Heights brainstorm ways to help their community.
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Women affected by violence in Del Paso Heights brainstorm ways to help their community.

On the streets of “95838,” it seems, every mother has a wrenching story. A son killed by a gang member’s gun. A cousin in prison for assault. A brother fatally stabbed in his home.

The ZIP code encompasses Del Paso Heights, one of Sacramento’s most dangerous neighborhoods. On Thursday, dozens of women who live in the area and whose lives have been upended by violence came together to brainstorm ways to make it stop. Wearing yellow buttons identifying themselves as “Community Mothers of 95838,” they are part of a broad-based initiative designed to reduce deaths among African American children in Sacramento County.

“We’re on a battlefield,” said Crystal Brent, 44, whose family ties to Del Paso Heights go back four generations. “We’ve got to fix what’s up with our kids.”

A county report released in 2013 examined the reasons behind the alarmingly high death rate of African Americans ages 17 and under. Data collected from 1990 to 2009 showed African American children died at twice the rate of white children in the county. African Americans made up 12 percent of the child population during that period, and 22 percent of the deaths.

Among the leading causes: homicides, abuse and neglect, infant sleep-related deaths and perinatal conditions.

The county has since embarked on a $26 million effort to reduce the death rate for black children through dozens of initiatives, including gang violence prevention, improved foster care, more accessible health care and parent education. The program will target six key neighborhoods in the county, including Del Paso Heights, where the bulk of black children’s deaths occur. The city, county and nonprofit group First 5 Sacramento are funding the effort, and it is managed by the Sierra Health Foundation’s Center for Health Program Management.

The agents for change, organizers said, will be people like the women who filled a conference room at the health foundation on Thursday afternoon. Most grew up and raised children in the area, and now fear for the future of their children and grandchildren. They talked of the gradual transformation of a neighborhood that once felt supportive, but now is fractured by gangs, guns, drugs and poverty.

“It used to be a village where everyone cared for everyone else,” Brent said. “We’ve lost all of that. Now, it’s chaos.”

Among those in attendance was Nicole Clavo, whose son Jaulon “J.J.” Clavo, a Grant Union High School student and football player, was gunned down in the neighborhood in November. A 16-year-old, Keymontae Lindsey, has been arrested in Clavo’s death and is facing charges including murder, shooting into an occupied vehicle and a gang enhancement.

According to police data, Clavo was one of 31 people killed in the North Sacramento ZIP codes of 95838 and 95815 since 2012. Roughly 62,000 people live in the area.

The homicide rate in the two ZIP codes during that period was almost double the rate in the rest of the city. About half of the victims were black. Six were under age 20.

In addition, about 75 rapes, 985 robberies and 2,130 aggravated assaults occurred in the area between 2012 and 2015. The violent crime rate in the area last year was more than double the rate in the rest of the city.

Brent wept as she spoke of her youngest son, who she said was arrested for assault the first time when he was just 8, and again when he was 12. Juvenile detention “turned him into a monster,” she said, “but by the grace of God, I believe we can save him.”

Brent attended Thursday’s meeting with her cousin, Telon Sanchez, who saw a son go to prison on weapons charges.

The cousins and about 30 other women of 95838 huddled in an office building off Garden Highway. They exchanged stories and phone numbers. They hugged and cried, joined hands and prayed. And they vowed to make a difference.

In the months to come, they’ll be going to schools, community centers and knocking on doors, to educate and involve other families.

“There’s an army rising up, and it starts today,” steering committee member Debra Cummings, who said she lost a brother to gun violence, told the crowd. “I’m ready to be over this. My nieces, my nephews and all of our children deserve a chance to become whatever they want to be. We have to take back our community.”

Nicole Clavo does not live in Del Paso Heights, but its streets claimed her son. She wants to be at the forefront of the effort to reclaim the community, she said.

Clavo lives in Elk Grove, but J.J. attended and played football at Grant High in Del Paso Heights. It was there he died, on the way back to school after picking up some fast food.

“My son’s life was taken in 95838,” Clavo said, “and I have become an integral part of that community. The mothers here today can help educate and inform people in the community, including teachers, city officials and others, about what is needed to deter the violence.”

Clavo said the pain of having buried a son is almost unbearable at times. “But I am going to be a survivor, not a victim,” she said. “I am not going to allow these murderers to victimize me like they victimized my son.”

Thursday’s meeting “is a strong start” toward real change in Del Paso Heights, she said.

“It’s a step toward helping our children have full lives and fulfill their potential, to live the lives that we all dream about for our children.”

Cynthia Hubert: 916-321-1082, @Cynthia_Hubert

Bee reporter Phillip Reese contributed to this report.

How to get involved

Interested in joining the Steering Committee on Reduction of African American Child Deaths? Email raacd@shfcenter.org.