When he got the text, Austin Farmer first felt shock, followed by a rush of overwhelming anger.

It said 14-year-old Rasante “Tay” Osorio — a joyful, goofy, loyal friend he met playing basketball — was dead. He had been shot several times in broad daylight on Washington Street.

“I was just in disbelief,” Farmer said in a recent interview. “I was hurt, I was shocked, and I just felt really angry.”

Osorio’s death this month followed multiple fatal episodes of violence involving children and teens in Roxbury and Dorchester. In two separate incidents at the Jeremiah E. Burke High School, one student was stabbed and another was shot. And the shooting that took Osorio’s life left another child wounded by gunfire.

The crisis has renewed calls for mental health and trauma support to help young people, resources already in short supply even before the pandemic.

“A lot of the people involved in violence have been younger and younger,” said Sheri Bridgeman, a program director at the Center for Teen Empowerment in Roxbury. “A lot of young people’s mental health is suffering, and it’s frustrating.”

Teen Empowerment, located in a low slung brick building across the street from the Roxbury YMCA, hires youth organizers to become “ambassadors for peace” and develop confidence as leaders while they inspire their peers.

The program works with more than 250 young people at a time, even though only 15 candidates will make the final cut to become youth organizers. The process offers much more than just a traditional job interview. The training includes hours of discussion about what’s happening in their lives — and lately, young people are coming in with much to process.

Bridgeman leads candidates through hours of games, brainstorming exercises and discussions designed to get them more comfortable.

“These young people who have either been murdered or hurt, these are their friends and family members,” Bridgeman said. “We can’t hire 263 young people, but we can give them a chance to get their feelings out and get a sense that they can actually do something about it, instead of feeling so hopeless.”

"We can give them a chance to get their feelings out and get a sense that they can actually do something about it, instead of feeling so hopeless."
Sheri Bridgeman, program director at the Center for Teen Empowerment

Farmer’s uncle, Gabriel Petit, drove him to the Teen Empowerment program. He said it’s hard to find a safe place for a young Black man to share their feelings or anger at a senseless death.

“As a Black man, there’s pressure to be masculine and hide your feelings,” he said. “I know that’s wrong, but if you don’t conceal your feelings, if you let out that anger, if you’re Black and you’re mad and you’re crying, the police will get called. You want to escape it, but you can’t.”

Students who gathered at the Teen Empowerment office last Tuesday were led by Bridgeman’s husband, Robert, who kicked off a discussion with a prompt about recent events. The violence had left him feeling personally defeated, he said, and worried for his own teen children.

“Literally every day you hear on the news that someone died,” 17-year-old Joseph Toledo told the group.

“It’s shocking to me,” said 16-year-old Mecca Williams. Last year she moved out of the neighborhood where one of the shootings occurred. “It’s just senseless.”

Celeste Buelto, a 21-year-old from Dorchester, said she witnessed violence in high school, and now she’s worried for her nieces and nephews who live in the Grove Hall area.

“It’s heartbreaking to see that this is still happening, and not much has been done to prevent it,” Buelto said. “It makes me feel defeated.”

Buelto’s alma mater, Brighton High School, is a “turnaround” school that was designated as underperforming by the state and has struggled to stem violence.

“To hear reports about how the school you graduated from is still so far behind, it’s kind of wounding,” she said.

Bridgeman asked students to act out scenes that showed the impact of issues affecting youth, using theater language to demonstrate parallels in the way conflict can escalate into violence.

“These are the issues that are going on in our communities,” he said, “and these issues create actions in our schools and our neighborhoods. We really need to think about how we move, what we say and who we say it to. Every action is a reaction.”

Farmer, like many of the teens gathered in the center’s conference center, was initially withdrawn and sat hunched in his red Jordans in his seat.

Within a few hours, he was performing a skit about issues affecting young people in his community. Farmer stayed late to talk animatedly with Bridgeman about ways he wants to help his peers “talk about their feelings and anger” and “be more mindful” about finding ways to process it.

Violence was brought up by multiple participants, who highlighted how poverty, racism and a lack of guidance and resources for young people contribute to the problem. Teen Empowerment Executive Director Abrigal Forrester said people too often jump to the wrong conclusions about youth and violence.

“The first mistake people make is to jump to the conclusion that it’s gang activity,” Forrester said, adding that people do not always recognizing the broader cultural forces at work. “We're living in a culture of death, lifted up through movies and media — this culture that hurting someone else will resolve your pain."

Law enforcement sources told GBH News that the recent acts of violence are still under investigation, but that none appeared to be gang-related.

For Farmer, becoming a youth organizer is a way to honor the memory of his friend Osorio, who he remembers as someone who was always in high spirits and a “bundle of joy.”

“He was so goofy and he was always clowning on everyone, but whenever you needed something he’d help you out,” he said. “He was just a really good person.”

Talking through his emotions and grief could also be a lifeline. And not just for him.

“I feel like I could actually get my voice out there, like maybe I could actually do something to help,” he said. “A close friend of mine lost his life at a young age. I don’t want that to happen to anyone else.”