by Willmarine B. Hurst

Rev. Dwight Webster, Rev. Tom Watson and Rev. Torin Sanders participate in a panel discussion during an annual summit on the African-American male. Below, a summit workshop brings community leaders together with the youth they hope to assist.

Recent headlines in today’s local, state and national news are chilling.

“13-year-old Terrytown boy booked with murder of his 5-year-old sister”

“NOPD books 4 teens suspected in armed-robbery spree”

“New Mexico teen kills three children, two adults, inside home”

And of course there are still unanswered questions related to the infamous shooting and wounding of 19 people during a Mother’s Day parade.

Why is there so much violence among the youth of today? Maybe it’s time for youth to speak up for themselves.

As a special project for the inaugural class of the Parent Leadership Training Institute (PLTI)—an organization dedicated to training parents to become advocates for their children and the community—two young people from the Odyssey House Academy (OH) were interviewed. The purpose was to give these young people a chance to express how they feel about lives. Their names (and pictures) are not used for privacy issues.

On a warm Tuesday morning in early June, two young people agreed to sit and talk about being in an adolescent treatment facility. Tee, a female, age 14 and Dee, a male, age 16 were both “remanded” to Odyssey House Academy by order of the juvenile court. “Odyssey House Academy is a residential substance abuse facility that serves males and females age 13 through 17,” according to Tonya Coulliette, program manager. The program also addresses other issues such as Oppositional Defiant Disorder, ADHD and/or depression.

Dee was actually sent there by his probation officer after being in jail for his second simple robbery offense. “I’m in here for simple robbery and smoking weeds,” Dee reveals. And Tee confesses, “I’m in here for smoking marijuana and aggravated assault.” When did they get to this point? When did they decide to become drug users and petty criminals?

In an online report by Mike Broemmel entitled, “Reasons for Juvenile Delinquency,” he cites several reasons why juveniles commit crimes, such as drug abuse, mental health issues, family environment, and peer pressure. Regardless of the reasons, if they are not reached at an early age, we will have a lost generation.

Dee’s Story – Misunderstood

According to Dee, who was a student at Joseph Clark Senior High School, there wasn’t any particular reason for his actions. Dee, who was wearing a tee shirt with the word “misunderstood” in large letters, seemed guarded in his response. Some people may think that as a young Black male, family environment may have been a factor in his actions; however, Dee dispels that myth. He had a good family life with loving parents.

“I don’t know why I did the things that I did,” he says. “I really didn’t have any reason. I had everything I wanted,” he concludes.

Dee explained that he was leaving Odyssey House the following week; and after which, he says that he plans to eventually leave New Orleans. “I want to go back to school, first,” he tells. “Then I’m going to move to Florida.” When asked what he would like to do with his life, Dee says, “I would like to be a football player or maybe a computer programmer.”

And when he was asked what he would change about the city, Dee says, “I don’t really care about this city. But if I could change anything, I would stop all the violence in the city. And I wouldn’t do all the robberies and stupid stuff that I did.”

Tee’s Story – I don’t know

One of the first things that one notices when meeting Tee is how young she looks. Of course, at age 14, she is young. Yet, she readily admits that she was here because of her fighting.

“I was charged with assault,” she explains. “Sometimes I can’t control my temper.”

She is in an anger management class at Odyssey House. But according to Tee, there were times that she got into fights for no apparent reason. She admits that she and some of her friends would get into gang fights without provocation.

“I wouldn’t be upset and stuff. I would just start fights. And I would carry a knife, but no guns.”

Tee, who is from Lafayette, was not in school at the time of her sentence. She says that she was just hanging out in the streets. So, when asked where she sees herself five years from now, she didn’t have any concrete plans. She did say that she would like to return to school. At age 14, it Tee seems as if she hasn’t given much thought to future plans, either. She was also given an opportunity to respond to the question about the changes that she would like to see in the city.

“I don’t know about any changes,” she says. “I would probably stop the violence, if I could.”

What will the ‘village’ do?

These two teenagers did not seem to have much hope or concern for the future. Is this our future generation? What can be done to help them?

One of the answers may come from the Parent Leadership Training Institute. This organization, formed in Connecticut, to help empower parents to be change agents and advocates for children in the schools and community, graduated its inaugural class in New Orleans on July 1st. Elaine Zimmerman, founder and executive director of the Institute, delivered the address on civic responsibility.

Graduates completed a 20-week session which helped to prepare them to deal with community and youth concerns.

Other organizations throughout the city are also stepping up, including the Family Center of Hope located at Watson Memorial Church. On June 27-28, the Center held its annual summit on the African-American male.

Since 1992, The Family Center of Hope, committed to finding solutions to the violent crime in our city, has convened parents, youth, elected officials, leaders of faith organizations, law enforcement and youth-serving agencies. The first night of this year’s meeting brought out people from all walks of life including Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s Chief of Staff Judy Reese Morse, Sheriff Marlin Gusman, State Rep. Wesley Bishop, newly-appointed Atty. Gen. Kenneth Polite, District B community liaison Julius Feltus, Millie Charles, retired dean of SUNO’s School of Social Work, as well as a host of other civic and community leaders and citizens.

“The War goes on in New Orleans: Who’s Responding? Who’s Responsible,” was the topic of debate with Norman Robinson, WDSU-TV news anchor, moderating. The panel participants included Rev. Dr. Dwight Webster, pastor of Christian Unity Baptist Church; Rev. Dr. Torin T. Sanders, pastor of Sixth Baptist Church; and host panelist, Rev. Tom Watson.

The New Orleans Tribune

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