Summer youth programs key to anti-violence campaign

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INDIANAPOLIS – Dozens of children in black t-shirts stood at attention on the hot pavement of a west side parking lot that had been the site of violence not once but twice in the last 24 hours.

“I AM…SOMEBODY!” they chanted. “I AM…SOMEBODY!”

Reminding them they were and not letting them forget it for a minute was the Rev. Malachi Walker, father and founder of Young Men, Inc.

“There have been several homicides taking place right here on the lot of Lafayette Square,” Walker told his youngsters. “The teen violence that we’re seeing in our city right now that’s running rampant, the majority of it is preventable, if not all of it. All it takes is to make some better decisions and choices in life.”

Dana O’Connor drove from Plainfield to drop her son off to stand in Walker’s formation.

“Rev. Walker is involved all year long. There was a time when we needed some extra help with our son, my husband and I, and he stepped right up to the plate. He’ll visit the schools. He’ll come out to your house and the boys don’t want Brother Malachi to know they’ve done anything wrong,” she said.

“It teaches them morals. It teaches them boundaries. It teaches them how to be helpful in their community,” O’Connor added.

Rev. Walker said the boys need life lessons. Many of them come from at-risk, single-parent households, and the statistics bear him out.

According to the 2012 State of Our Black Youth Report by Indiana Black Expo, 57.7 percent of black Hoosier families are headed up by a single mother.  The numbers show that 41.7 percent of black children in Indiana live in poverty, high above the national average. Juvenile delinquency rates for black youth are 2.5 times higher than all youth.

Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department Chief Rick Hite recently announced a Summer Violence Reduction Plan that identifies youth intervention as a key pillar.

July is traditionally the most violent month of the year in Indianapolis.

At Eagle Creek Park, 20 students from IMPD’s G.R.E.A.T. program were learning decision-making and conflict resolution skills.

“We see throughout the week how before we can get to a child to give correct behavior, another student that’s in the program will say, ‘Hey, you know you shouldn’t do that?’ or, ‘That’s not a good choice to make,’” said Sgt. Ida Williams. “Hopefully, if we can just plant a small seed in each one of them this week, that as they continue to grow and mature they’ll remember what they’ve learned.”

Recent crime reduction grants disbursed by the city have gone to organizations that target specific at-risk youth, finding they are more likely to be involved in crime and in need of alternative training and options.

Back on West 38th Street, Rev. Walker said he had raised enough money to pay for 50 youngsters in his summer program. He brought nearly 100 to the prayer vigil.

When asked where the rest of the money would come from to pay for meals and activities for dozens more children, Walker merely smiled and pointed to the sky.

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