INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Young Men, Incorporated, celebrated 25 years of mentoring success with Indianapolis youth during a graduation dinner Sunday afternoon.
Rev. Malachi Walker of Great Commission Church of God has provided summer programs for thousands of city youngsters and their families since 1994.
During the celebration dinner, Walker was surrounded by dozens of those alumni and more than 70 of this year’s campers who chanted his name as Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett looked on.
“It really speaks volumes about the entire success of this program,” said Hogsett. “Many programs begin. Not many last for 25 years.”
Jeremy Thompson returned to recall his first camp with Walker in the summer of 1999.
“From the first day I started he said, ‘You’re gonna be somebody, you will succeed,’” said Thompson. “And at that moment I knew that I had a plan for my life, that I am somebody, and I have to believe it.”
Jayse Evans, 12, took home an armload of awards including Camper of the Year.
“The coolest thing about coming to this camp is learning how to be a young man,” he said. “You learn how to respond to older people, your elders, and you learn how to be respectful and how to approach police officers.”
Since camp began on June 4, four gunshot victims under the age of 20 have died in Indianapolis.
So far this year there have been 15 gunshot victims younger than 20-years-old, keeping pace with 2017’s numbers and up six from 2018.
Year-to-date homicides in Indianapolis number 88, slightly below last year’s running tally of 92 on August 4, 2018.
Three people, including a man shot by IMPD Friday night, have been killed in Indianapolis since the first of the month.
“This was a difficult weekend, not only for the city of Indianapolis, but for our country in terms of gun violence,” said Hogsett, reflecting on the mass killings that took a combined total of 29 lives in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio, this weekend. “I do think that we are turning a corner. The numbers all suggest as we stand here today that violence, homicides, aggravated assaults, victims of non-fatal shootings, they’re all below the numbers where we were at this time last year. Not significantly below, but below. That’s better than going up. So that tells me that we’re making a difference.”
A second summer in the basement of Rev. Walker’s church made a difference in the life of 12-year-old Messiah Belton.
“I’ll just say I used to be very bad and then I came to this camp and I got way better. I’m still working on stuff but I think I got way better as a person,” he said. “A lot of kids want to come back, and this is the first year I’ve heard a lot of first-year kids want to share about their summer and how it was, and I think it was great summer."
“I know next year is gonna be way better and I’ve just gotta wait for next year.”
Walker took older campers on field trips to check out college campuses this summer. Some camper awards also included $100 checks to be spent on back-to-school supplies.