Sure, it takes a lot of strength to take a stand against teen violence and dedicate your life to empowering the next generation. But it takes another level of creativity (and ingenuity) to think of doing all that through a video game.
“We’re really excited about this project,” Baptista told us, beaming.
What he’s talking about is an interactive video game—based on real situations—that teaches young people how to have healthy relationships. It’s just one of many projects that have come out of Baptista’s Rhode Island-based grassroots advocacy initiative Young Voices, which he founded four years ago. Other projects have included a website called “Hook Up With Respect,” which allows teens to air questions about relationships in a supportive community.
Baptista saw the systemic need for support like this when he was 15 and working with a group called Youth in Action. He and co-founder Karen Feldman discussed what became Young Voices.
We started talking about systemic change … It was really important to me to break the cycle.
In an essay, Baptista describes his own experiences with violence in his family:
I remember the pattern of lights on the walls of our kitchen. I remember police officers asking me what happened harshly, as if I were to blame for the actions of my father. I remember the look of fear my father had as they cuffed him. Long after the police had taken my father away, the look on his face continued to haunt me.
These experiences led him to where he is now: 24-years-old, newly married, and working full time as co-director of Young Voices.
We caught up with him between classes:
What do you enjoy the most about your work?
It’s really simple. I adore young people. I’ve had students call me at 3 am, at 8 am—24 hours a day. Sometimes it’s about hanging out. Sometimes they’ll see my Facebook status says I’m playing poker and they’ll ask “hey Chace, why didn’t you invite me?”
And then sometimes it’s “Chace–I’m about to leave my house and family.” I deal with all those issues too.
What do you hope people will get out of the work you do?
We suffer a huge loss because we don’t educate our society. And we, as a society, lose out. That’s what I try to communicate with my work.
I’ve known a ton of people—kids—who I would say were smarter than me or better than me, but who are now in this place and in really tough situations because they don’t have the right support. I know that they have the potential to do whatever they need or want to do. But they don’t have a way to actualize it due to certain problems.
There are kids who graduated top of their class in high school, but who now have to take remedial courses at college level to make up for lost time. I’ve taught sessions for my friends who are trying to get their lives back together.
All of them have something that they can give to society and it’s just not being used.
Do you consider yourself to be a good man? Why or why not?
I consider myself a leader and yes, I guess I do consider myself a good man.
What makes a good man, in your eyes?
Somebody who cares about others’ well-being and how people are doing. Someone who actually listens to people. Also, someone who is a person of integrity and takes actions that is consistent with the dreams that they have.
Has there been an ultimate good man in your life?
There’s not just one. I’ve taken pieces from every one of my mentors.