‘You are in charge of you’

Program seeks to arm students with knowledge to resist gangs
Mar. 05, 2014 @ 10:05 PM

The mantra in Henderson Middle School Wednesday night was gang-free.

Gang Resource Officer Melissa Elliott shouted again and again into the crowd: “Y’all want to be what?”

The response stayed the same: “Gang-free!”

Vance County parents and students gathered in the HMS auditorium to celebrate the middle and high school winners of the Teen Anti-Gang poster contest through the Vance County Sheriff’s Office.

Sheriff Peter White, Superintendent Ronald Gregory, Maj. Joseph Ferguson and Police Chief Marcus Barrow made brief comments.

Performances by the HMS band and Southern Vance High School step team were also included in the night’s festivities.

Elliott said the purpose of the contest was to give the community’s youth an avenue to express themselves about gangs and how to prevent them.

Students from all the middle and high schools in Vance County participated, and the Sheriff’s Office received more than 100 posters.

Elliott said she wanted to target kids ages 12 to 17 years old because that is typically the age range when kids are pressured to join gangs.

The first place winners took home a Sony PlayStation 4; second place received $100, and third place got a gift certificate.

White said the contest is only the beginning of the Teen Anti-Gang initiative.

“There are some places you go, and people say there are no gangs here,” he said. “I want you know, yes, we do have gangs here. But we will stamp them out, and we will not let them take over.”

Gregory reinforced the message of remaining gang-free.

“You are in charge of you; your minds are yours,” he said. “Think for yourself. Don’t let someone else decide what you are going to be a part of or not be a part of.”

Lily Kanouff, a HMS student who won third place, depicted the dangers of gang life in her poster with the image of someone being tangled and stuck in the branches of a tree.

“I wanted to show the community that everybody needs to work together to stop gangs,” she said.

Kanouff said she knows classmates involved in gangs.

She sees them in the hallways with bruises and cuts and wonders where those injuries came from.

“I think if kids got more involved in sports or other activities, it would be less of a problem,” she said.

Contact the writer at smansur@hendersondispatch.com.