Young Men, Inc. summer program helps teens learn to avoid violence

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.-- A brief outburst drenched the urban campers in a church parking lot on the city’s northeast side.

Dressed in black t-shirts, the kids and teens got no love from the counselors and mentors at the Young Men Incorporated camp.

“Stay still and focus,” barked one counselor. “A little rain won’t hurt.”

Every year Reverend Malachi Walker has enough space and money to welcome about 70 young boys into his summer-long program.

This year, Walker has said yes to the pleas and phone calls of about a hundred parents and grandparents because he said he can never say no to a kid.

At a time when Mayor Joe Hogsett reported his summer jobs program has found employment for 2,000 youth who are out of school and yet one of every six homicide victims this year is a teenager, Young Men Inc. is a success story, raising children to be young men, and doing it with a minimal of outside financial support.

“I’ve been trying to grow as a person,” said Jayden Witty, 14. “I’m entering high school, I’m going to be a freshman, so I can be very good to start off with that.”

“I came back because I love this camp,” said Messiah Belton, enrolled in his second camp at the age of ten, “and they teach you everything you need to know before you become an adult and get shot out here.”

There have been 66 homicides in Indianapolis so far this year.

Eleven of the victims were teenagers and IMPD homicide detectives determined two of them were young people committing home invasion robberies last week when they were fatally wounded by residents in self-defense.

“I’ve lost my brother,” said Witty. “He was shot twice.”

Witty explained what was on his mind this summer as he looks forward to the excitement of high school in August.

“Mainly it's about the killings now and kids not being able to have a father or anybody there for them so we need to lead them into the right way and I feel that’s what we need more of,” he said.

Saturday morning, at ten o’clock, city officials will host teen-led community forums at Flanner House and Martin University to listen to young people speak out about their fears and hopes and suggestions on curbing summer violence in the city.

“If we could just talk to each other because most parents and most grownups don’t want to listen to people our age,” said Marcus Woods, a camp counselor at the age of 16. “When you have those mentors there it's not hard to stay out of trouble or if you need someone to talk to, they are there for you.”

“A lot of them come in here broken,” said Jarrod Hubbard, another 16-year-old counselor. ”A lot of them come in here sad, a lot of them come in here confused, some of them don’t even know what they’re here for. If you continue to ignore this generation, you’re going to lose them.”

When city grant money was handed out last month to groups with youth and anti-violence summer programs, Young Men Inc. was ignored.

While some groups were given in excess of $50,000, Walker depended on the $12,000 he received annually to provide camp, mentoring, lunch, awards and field trips for the 100 youngsters who find their way to his church every summer.

Half of the young people in Walker’s camp don’t have fathers at home.

Messiah Belton said he didn’t mind standing on pavement in the mid-morning heat because, “most kids need a direct path a good path of respect and honesty and just flat out focus.”