For more than a decade, John Watts and Steven "The Disciple" Marshall have been using music to wage a war against gangs, violence and the senseless killing of Chattanooga youth.
I've known both for at least that long, and I've always been struck by their sincerity and passion for inspiring urban youth. I've also noticed a change in their tone and message over the years. Like just about everyone else today, they are frustrated and angry at what they see, and they don't pull any punches when talking about it.
"We've got to get through to these knuckleheads," Watts said earlier this week. "We've got to get these idiots to think."
Together they have written and recorded a song called "Think Twice Before You Take a Life" that lays it out there.
"Trying to take somebody's life, you think that's fun? Let me tell you bra, that stuff is dumb," The Disciple raps in the song.
"I wrote the song because I think sometimes our first response is our first reaction. That's how we get into trouble."
You can hear and learn more about their work on youtube.com/savetheyouthtour.
The two have taken their message to schools, churches, recreation centers and anywhere else they think it might help. Watts, who has also produced three local television shows over the years, says schools are the key places.
"The kids that these rallies are attracting are not the ones that need this message," he said. "There are gang members in our schools, and there is nowhere to run when they are there. They have to listen, and I've seen the message get through. You've got to go in these schools with some hard truths."
The Disciple has also issued a challenge to local media to use the song in public service announcements.
"I would like to see them use it and talk about it to prevent death before it happens, rather than talking about it after it happens.
Watts said the challenge, and part of the frustration, in writing the song was dealing with so many issues. It pleads with government and church leaders to take a more active role, and it challenges young people to think beyond the immediate and to realize the lifelong impact that taking another life has on everyone involved.
"We wanted to include everything and, if we had, the song would be 16 minutes long," he said.
The Disciple said he hopes the song will make a difference.
Contact staff writer Barry Courter at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6354.
Barry Courter is staff reporter and columnist for the Times Free Press. He started his journalism career at the Chattanooga News-Free Press in 1987. He covers primarily entertainment and events for ChattanoogaNow, as well as feature stories for the Life section. Born in Lafayette, Ind., Barry has lived in Chattanooga since 1968. He graduated from Notre Dame High School and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a degree in broadcast journalism. He previously was ...