Calling on positive role models

Published 7:07 pm Monday, September 6, 2010

There is a gathering tide in Suffolk of people who are working to intervene in the lives of youth to help keep them out of trouble and to show them there are people who care about their lives and about what becomes of them.

A little more than a month ago, a promising 18-year-old football player from Lakeland High School was shot following a fight at a party. Since then, the community has begun to rally around the need to find a solution to the epidemic of violent crime among the city’s teens and young adults.

There have been NAACP meetings and church meetings, meetings to form coalitions and prayer groups. On Monday, one organization held a day in the park to promote actively involved fathers, and today, on the first day of the new school year, a church downtown plans a daylong prayer vigil.

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People are beginning to understand the stakes that are involved in getting between kids and the negative influences that threaten to destroy their lives. There’s a whole generation at stake, and the situation could hardly be more dire, as Suffolk kids are being enticed into gangs and other criminal activity at an alarming rate.

Suddenly, there is no shortage of passion for the cause among the people who run such organizations as the NAACP, Suffolk Tomorrow, PREVENT Youth Ministries and the Y2K Academy, along with representatives from city agencies such as the Suffolk Office on Youth. Each of those organizations is represented by folks who are committed to the cause, who care about the results and who are willing to work hard to achieve the dream of a community in which teens are no longer killing teens, where young adults are able to achieve their full potential.

What’s been largely missing from the equation is the segment of Suffolk’s society that the organizations are working to save — the city’s young people. A couple dozen showed up for a meeting held by the NAACP on the issue of youth violence last month. Since then, however, they’ve been relatively quiet on the issue, avoiding the planning meetings and the rallies that have followed.

If Suffolk hopes to solve the problem that its community leaders have identified, those leaders must find a way to get the youth to buy into the proffered solutions. Young people in the city must be convinced that their lives will be improved when they turn away from the violence and crime that are so pervasive in some communities. They must meet people who have moved past those influences and made something of themselves. They must be made to understand that the petty imaginations of thugs and thieves cannot match the richness of life that is available if they’re willing to work for it.

Where are the youth of Suffolk? Look for their role models and you’ll see them. Find them some appropriate role models and you’ll help change their world.