published Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011

City of Chattanooga keeping youth from gangs 'piece by piece'


by Cliff Hightower
Studio engineer Reginald Cooper, top right, guides middle school students in the Studio One after-school program Tuesday in the South Chattanooga Recreation Center. From left are Eric Holland, Kedarrious Calhoun, Javier Lansden, below center, and Darrion Robinson. The program is designed to help lessen the chances that youth will be involved in gangs.
Studio engineer Reginald Cooper, top right, guides middle school students in the Studio One after-school program Tuesday in the South Chattanooga Recreation Center. From left are Eric Holland, Kedarrious Calhoun, Javier Lansden, below center, and Darrion Robinson. The program is designed to help lessen the chances that youth will be involved in gangs.
Photo by Tim Barber.
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CITY PROGRAMS

Chattanooga's Youth Development Division has set up a variety of programs to help keep kids off the streets and out of gangs:

I'm Unique: Targeted for teenage girls to help them redefine "pretty" and "beautiful";

Grilling with Brian: To help children understand nutrition and the value of food;

Listen Up: To build future leaders;

Who you're reppin': To inform youth about roles in government with a component in which children campaign and run for various offices;

Studio 101: Shows youth there is more to the recording industry than rapping;

Graphic and video: Allows youth to make art for CDs and make documentary films

Source: City of Chattanooga

Poll
Is Chattanooga's gang problem out of hand?
  • photo
    The CIty of Chattanooga and Hamilton County representatives speak about what needs to be done to remedy Chattanooga's gang problem early Tuesday morning at the County Courthouse off of Georgia Ave.
    Photo by Dan Henry /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

  • photo
    Mitch McClure speaks to a board of officials about what needs to be done to remedy Chattanooga's gang problem early Tuesday morning at the County Courthouse off of Georgia Ave.
    Photo by Dan Henry /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

  • photo
    Hamilton County District Attorney Bill Cox speaks to a board of officials about what needs to be done to remedy Chattanooga's gang problem early Tuesday morning at the County Courthouse off of Georgia Ave.
    Photo by Dan Henry /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Twelve-year-old Darrion Robinson hung around the South Chattanooga Recreation Center, dodging in between the basketball gym and the recording studio.

The Lookout Valley Middle School student said he doesn't see many gang members around his school, but he knows to stay away from them.

"My Momma said they will kill you," he said, his voice rising. "She said you fight over [gang] colors, it will kill you."

Darrion and other youth like him are exactly who Chattanooga Parks and Recreation Department employees are trying to keep out of gangs. This year, even in the midst of a hard budget year, the Chattanooga City Council put $280,000 into a pot for Parks and Recreation to help create a Youth Development Division. A sub-department of the division is trying to help keep kids off the streets and out of gangs.

Those involved know the problem is bigger than themselves. They are just one component of many trying to help stop the scourge of gang violence across the city. There have been 50 shootings with injuries and 23 homicides this year in Chattanooga, many of them attributed to gang violence.

"You have to take it piece by piece," said Marcus Thomas, a recreation specialist and key member of the division.

Thomas said there are two types of youth using the inner-city recreation centers: Those who are in gangs and those who could end up in one.

"The ones who we're targeting are on the fence," he said. "The ones who are there, we're limited at what we can do."

The idea for the division emerged from an event called Swagfest that Parks and Recreation hosted two years ago, said Greta Hayes, the city's recreation director. It was a concert put on to try to give children something to do besides joining a gang, she said.

Members of the Youth Development Division say their programs are working, but it's hard to put a measurement on it yet because it is the first year, Hayes said.

More than 250 youth took part in a program over the summer called S.T.U.N.T.I.N.G. (Students that Unite and Take Initiative Against Gangs), she said. The program offered a safe place for teens and youth to express themselves and stay off the streets.

Hayes said the program was held in five of the city's 16 recreation centers and the goal is ultimately get it to all centers.

"Do we have a target to reach more kids?" she asked. "Absolutely."

The employees at recreation centers are sometimes the ones closest to neighborhood gang members and the youth who could be recruited. Sometimes Parks and Recreation employees step in quickly enough to at least try to steer teenagers away from violence.

Just last week, Thomas said three teen boys got into a fight at a rec center. He learned they wanted to join gangs, so he pulled out a whiteboard and asked them to tell him what three things they wanted out of being in a gang. They told him love, respect, money, which he wrote on the whiteboard.

Then he wrote what they could get from education, family and friends -- love, respect, money.

"It's the same things," he said. "They just aren't getting it quick enough."

Gang members aren't allowed to wear their colors in the centers, he said. Recreation center personnel try to give those in gangs positive attention, he said, but it will take churches and other non-profits, too.

"I can't guarantee you that, just because I have a program, someone is going to get out of a gang," he said. "It happens over time."

City Councilman Russell Gilbert, chairman of the city's Parks and Recreation Committee, said this week there was no use dealing with the past and trying to figure out how the city developed a gang problem.

"We are here, so how are we going to deal with it?" he asked.

He said his proposal was to have a roundtable of leaders -- city and county government, school officials, judges and state representatives -- and see what kind of solutions they could develop.

But he said he was still not sure how such a summit would come about, but if it happens, egos need to be left at the door.

"We don't need a speaker," Gilbert said. "We need action."

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joetheplumber said...

Give them all applications and quit wasting time and money on these scum bags. You people are falling for the oldest trick in the book. Act up and get attention. Stop fooling around and treat these people like the dirt they are.

November 2, 2011 at 12:46 a.m.
newhome33 said...

WOOOW.... "SCUM BAGS",,,"THESE PEOPLE LIKE THE DIRT THEY ARE".."LITTLE EFFORT"....HOW A SIMPLE ACT OF TRYING TO DO SOMETHING POSITIVE CAN BRING OUT THE TRUE RACIST IN SOME PEOPLE.... SMH

November 2, 2011 at 8:15 a.m.
jd2011 said...

The kids aren't scum bags and need a chance to have a good life. Just because some people in Chattanooga can't get their life together and don't want more for themselves doesn't mean their kids deserve to go down the same path and never make anything of themselves.

November 2, 2011 at 8:21 a.m.

They will most likely go down the path their parents are currently following. There are programs for their parents, but they can't be coerced to attend them because they have been brainwashed by the plantation owners to stay in their place. The only way to truly help these kids is to wake their parents up. Find a way to do that and you will change the course of this country.

November 2, 2011 at 11:37 a.m.
slimjim300 said...

these kids need a proper fighting ring to sort out their differences wearing protective gear. they shoot each other because they are afraid of being embarrassed.but theres no shame in the ring.

November 2, 2011 at 11:43 a.m.
cbarney4 said...

I agree with jd2011!

November 2, 2011 at 1:29 p.m.
67melissamb said...

I found the wording almost laughable. Yesterday, they were able to "free up" 5 million dollars for road work....today, there is a hardship to come up with $280,OOO for children to have a chance at a better life. I know they come from different funds, I just found the wording ironic. It almost indicates what many feel is more important. As much as they work on the roads in this city...can't they get the roads right? Seems like they work on the same areas OVER and OVER again!

November 2, 2011 at 1:43 p.m.
Haiku said...

What? They're discussing black folk with no black folks present? From the pics, these appear to be an all white meeting. Historically, that's never been a good sign for black folks.

November 2, 2011 at 7:37 p.m.
effectivechange said...

One official recommended a leaders' roundtable that includes city/county/state government representation, education officials and judges. This is a start in plan development to overcome a gang problem in any community. Suggestions: Consider including at the roundtable some of the persons that live in these communities where gang activities exist; include churches/ministries; checkout how other cities are overcoming the gang problem positively; add visible outreach community activities monthly involving all ages at community centers and other facilities; more communication.

November 3, 2011 at 9:23 a.m.
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