Newspaper article News Sentinel

We Must Keep Our Children Safe ; Youth Organizations, Safe Places, Well-Paying Jobs, Prayer All Required

Newspaper article News Sentinel

We Must Keep Our Children Safe ; Youth Organizations, Safe Places, Well-Paying Jobs, Prayer All Required

Article excerpt

"If I live, will you come to my graduation?" This is not a line from "The Hunger Games." It is a question a freshman at Fulton High School asked her Young Life leader last week after learning that her classmate, Zaevion Dobson, had been murdered.

When gunfire erupted outside the Lonsdale house where Zae and his friends were hanging out, the 15-year-old football star threw himself on top of his friends, saving the lives of Faith Gordon, 17, and 16-year-old Kiara Rucker.

The youths of center-city Knoxville are no strangers to such violence.

It was a bloody fall. Cara Crowder, 23, was murdered Sept. 16. Kameron Mills, 20, was murdered four days later. Theddeus Moore, 22, was murdered Nov. 1. Sidney Jackson, 19, was murdered Nov. 21. Alan Jackson, 19, was murdered Dec. 13. Zae was murdered Dec. 17. Brandon Perry, 23, was murdered the next day.

According to Knoxville Police Chief David Rausch, "Black youths between the ages of 14 and 24 continue to be the majority of victims of violent crimes in our city."

Three thousand mourners crammed into Overcoming Believers Church last Saturday to mourn Zae's death. Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero asked the young people to stand. Then she asked all the adults to say together: "You are our children. We will keep you safe."

It's a lovely thought. How can we keep this promise? How can we keep the young people of center-city Knoxville safe? We have some suggestions.

First, we can support our community's excellent youth-serving organizations. A 9-year-old boy on the Emerald Youth Foundation swim team announced one afternoon that he was joining the Young Crips, a recruiting arm for the Crips gang. The boy's father is in prison. The boy desperately wants to be accepted and protected. The Crips are ready to welcome him into the violent life of a gang member where the odds of survival are poor.

Thankfully, Knoxville has outstanding community organizations offering at-risk youths an alternative to gang life. Some of these are the Emerald Youth Foundation, 100 Black Men of Greater Knoxville, Project Grad, Community Schools, the Boys and Girls Club, Girl Talk Inc., the UUNIK Academy, Wesley House, YOKE youth ministries, First Tee of Greater Knoxville, Urban Young Life, Thrive Lonsdale and the Save our Sons Initiative. These nonprofits are almost entirely dependent on the generosity of our community to fulfill their vital mission. They also need mentors, coaches, tutors and board members. …

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