Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

A Refuge from the Streets

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

A Refuge from the Streets

Article excerpt

PATERSON -- The word "violence" came up often as the children described their city.

"I do like Paterson, but it's also full of violence," said Joshua Hames, 11.

Destiny Diaz, 12, said it's "a place where I grew up and was born," but she hopes to leave someday.

The eight boys and girls, ages 6 to 14, sat on a couch at the Rev. Michael McDuffie's Derrom Avenue home on Wednesday and discussed how they could make better decisions for themselves and help others do the same.

They're participants in McDuffie's two-week boot camp, his modest effort to steer city youth away from drugs, drug dealing and violence. "We need to give kids other options," McDuffie said.

Many of the children come from single-parent households that have struggled -- and sometimes failed -- to scrape together the $220 fee.

McDuffie, pastor of the Mighty Sons of God Church, said he planned the boot camp and an after-school program he hopes to start this fall in response to the fatal shooting of 12-year-old city resident Genesis Rincon in July. The death caused grief and shock in Paterson, and prompted vows from the mayor and police director, to pastors and community leaders, to many city residents to help stem gun violence.

The children watched the movie "The Matrix" on Wednesday morning, as McDuffie asked them to analyze scenes. In one key moment, the main character, Neo, faces a choice between a red pill, offering painful truth, and a blue pill, which would allow him to be comfortably ignorant.

McDuffie paused the movie to ask the children what their red pills and blue pills were. "Tell me something you battle between yourself," he said.

"Should I push someone or should I hit them?" said Joshua.

"That sounds like two blue pills to me," McDuffie said.

Hames revised his answer. "Blue is hitting somebody," he said. "Red pill is helping them."

"And you want to take the red pill," McDuffie said.

McDuffie's boot camp runs from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays and involves aerobics, swimming, and math and reading lessons. …

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