Speakers call for love, better lives at home at V-GAP forum

Nov. 21, 2013 @ 10:17 PM

Danya Perry said in Ghana there is a greeting that is translated as, “How are the children?”

He asked the crowd of about 75 people in the Henderson Middle School auditorium, “Why is that important?” and answered his own question, “If the children are well, we are all well.”

Perry was the featured speaker Thursday evening at a community forum hosted by the Vance Gang Awareness Partnership. Perry is director of youth development for Communities in Schools and an ongoing consultant with V-GAP. He has also consulted with the U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

Perry said he had learned a lot about gangs from the research he has read.

“But that all changed on Sept. 5, 2005,” he said. That’s when his own son was born.

Having a child of his own and interacting with young people have given that research new meaning.

“I’ve worked with 17 young people, 16 males and one female,” he said. “I’ve lost six of them.”

He told about the last one, who was killed at age 24 in a drug dispute. With obvious emotion, Perry said, “They set him up and killed him. I’ve thought, ‘What more could I have done?’”

But among the others are several in the military or attending universities. And one who said he will run for president of the United States in 2028.

Perry described factors both pushing and pulling young people toward gang involvement. The “push” factors are things they can’t control, such as bullying, poverty and a bad environment. The “pull” factors are the seductive qualities of groups.

“That pull is hard for a kid to resist by himself,” Perry said.

He said it is up to the community to give young people the help they need to avoid being sucked into gangs. He cited types of programs that are effective.

But he added, “The salvation has to be love. Programs alone don’t do it.”

A panel responded to issues raised in Perry’s presentation. Melissa Elliott, gang officer with the Vance County Sheriff’s Office, suggested using former gang members to discourage young people from joining gangs.

“There are convicted felons that want to give back,” she said. “If they can come into a room and talk to young people, I say give them a chance.”

Sgt. Lamont Burchette, of the Henderson Police Department, said parents and grandparents need help in understanding behavior that may indicate gang involvement.

“They have no clue what to look for,” he said.

Heart Foxworth, of Cardinal Innovations, said, “It is learned behavior. They need tools, they need support and skills.”

David Carter, chief court officer of the 9th District Court, said the court system has an obligation in dealing with juveniles to keep the community safe as well as to empower the family to better deal with the problem.

Vance County Schools Superintendent Ronald Gregory told of actions the school system has taken, such as opening the middle school gym in the evening and rerouting buses to drop students off at the Boys & Girls Club after school. He emphasized the importance of relating positively to young people.

“They don’t care how much you know,” he said. “They want to know that you care.”

District Court Judge Carolyn Yancey said, “On every other Tuesday, I have 15 to 20 kids on my docket. The most disheartening things is when a mother or a grandmother says, ‘Take him, judge. There’s nothing more I can do with him.’” She said it is important to intervene at an early age.

The final section of the forum included three women who told of the impact of gangs on their lives.

Diabolique Hart told how gangs affected a friend.

Taynita Bell said, “I have six kids.”

Most of them are successful, she said.

“But my 15-year-old is a gang-banger.”

He is now in a program to help him get on the right track.

“I was one of those people who thought it was somebody else’s kid,” she said. “It’s not. We need to find out as an individual what I can do and not give up on our kids.”

Gloria Ledbetter said, “I lost my son at age 24.”

Tearfully she said, “His problem was he had become an enemy of gang members. When you kill one person, you haven’t just killed that person. You’ve torn a family apart. This has to start at home. We can’t turn a blind eye to it. We have to be stronger in doing what we need to do.”

At the end of their statements, several students came from the audience and gave each one a hug.

Perry said, “This is the reality of some of our families, y’all. You have witnessed the heart of the future. This group will make sure another teardrop won’t have to run down a mother’s cheek.”

V-GAP has scheduled four follow-up forums to be held on the following schedule:

• Dec. 3: Shiloh Baptist Church.

• Dec. 10: First United Methodist Church.

• Dec. 12: Spring Street Missionary Baptist Church.

• Dec. 17: Davis Chapel Missionary Baptist Church.

More information on V-GAP is available through chairwoman Kanika Turrentine at (252) 431-1926.

Contact the writer at dirvine@hendersondispatch.com.