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Molding our youth as champions for the future
BY ALLEN A. BUCHANAN, Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG – Last Friday, the City of St. Petersburg hosted an event celebrating this year’s Not My Son campaign, a grassroots community intervention initiative that focuses on reducing violence among African-American youth.
Attendees received updates about the first year of the Cohort of Champions (COC), a program focused on improving educational and economic outcomes for African-American males ages 12-24.
Also announced were new programs under the My Brother’s and Sister’s Keeper initiative (MBSK), including a Youth Program Development Grant funding opportunity for non-profit organizations serving at-risk youth in St. Petersburg.
The COC committee and participating community organization leaders met in front of the Enoch Davis Community Center to celebrate the inaugural year of wrap-around programs and services aimed at developing African-American boys and girls as future leaders by exposing them to positive role models, academic enrichment and job readiness skills training.
“This is what we need to do to save our kids,” said former City Council Chair Lisa Wheeler-Bowman. “Why should we need to bring anybody in to save our kids? These are our kids!”
Wheeler-Bowman personally felt the tragic sting of gun violence when her son Cabretti “Brady” Brown and his best friend were murdered in Sept. 2008.
She joined up with the Not My Son initiative last year to help educate parents and divert young people from street violence. Several organizations started joining the effort that has now led to a holistic development of services that will be supported by grants from the city.
Pastor Shurrea Daniels from Kingdom Restoration compared an eerie biblical account to what could happen to St. Pete’s youth if nothing were to be done immediately.
“Mark 3:37 says that if the enemy can bind up our strong men, then the enemy has devoured our homes,” said Daniels.
She urged the crowd to get out into the community and “increase the peace and stop the violence.”
“Any great entity has to build from the top down and from the bottom up,” said Kenny Irby, the Community Intervention Director for the City of St. Pete.
Irby is responsible for overseeing and reporting the success of Not My Son, MBSK and the COC.
“These are groups—not-for-profits and faith-based organizations — whose job it is to improve the education, workforce participation and the enrichment of our at-risk children,” said Mayor Rick Kriseman.
In addition, Kriseman emphasized that community efforts to work with young African-American women in south St. Pete has gotten underway through a job skills training program called “Just Be You.”
The Just Be You Conference last month involved 133 middle school girls from summer parks and recreation programs. It was a chance for these young women to have fun but also learn about using social media wisely, personal branding and physical and mental health.
To date, the MBSK and COC have fostered partner relationships with Arts Conservatory for Teens, St. Petersburg College and Pinellas Ex-Offenders Re-entry Coalition.
In the ensuing months ahead, the city hopes to bring even more community organizations on board to enhance chances of success for the youth.
The evening’s activities culminated with the formation of six teams that canvassed the neighborhood surrounding the recreation center. Rev. J C. Pritchett II of Faith Church prayed over the activity before the teams ventured out to post yard signs and get signatures of community supporters who pledged to contribute by helping to stop or report violent juvenile crimes.
For more information about the “Not My Son” and other preventative community programs for youth, Rev. J. C. Pritchett II can be reached at (727) 337-9850.