In 2009 I drove to Gwinnett County Detention Center to visit with a kid that I had connected with many years earlier when he was a teenager. Now, he was a grown young man, with big boy problems. After years inside one of the toughest street gangs in the world, he was facing potentially the most severe punishment, which he avoided, only to be looking at a life sentence inside a maximum security prison. I worked with him for two years, weekly, and saw him transform before my eyes. He happened to be Latino, and we reconnected and got very close because he already trusted this middle aged white man from the suburbs of East Cobb. He trusted me because we had made that bond that we were now building on from years before. That set into motion a new course and trajectory for my work that has only gained momentum over the past 5 years. This work has taken me inside prisons all over the United States, as well as prisons in South Africa, Mexico, Ukraine, Honduras, and this Fall I am planning on going to Kuwait. That beautiful young gang member changed my life forever.
Eventually my work began to take me into schools. Prevention became my cause, because I was meeting these young people’s fathers, big brothers, uncles and grandfathers on the “inside” and I wanted to see if we could break the cycle and reverse the generational curse. I began to work in inner city schools with black and Hispanic kids in tough areas of town. However, I began to come to terms with an uncomfortable realization: this was not a black problem or a white problem; it wasn’t a rich problem or a poor problem; it wasn’t about inner cities versus the suburbs, or the hoods rather than the gated communities. No, this was a generational, human problem, and kids were in the cross hairs. We are losing a generation of kids, black, white brown, rich, poor inside the perimeter AND outside in Atlanta. This a generation that is quickly losing its way and needs to be interrupted and redirected.
We lost two kids to violence in the streets this year in an inner city school where we do our “Inspired Straight” program with the Power of Peace Project. However, the same year we lost four kids in a school in North Fulton to suicide. We have problems with at-risk youth in the inner city schools AND the affluent suburbs and it is time for us to come together and find solutions. Kids today are being bombarded with more information, flying at a faster speed, with practically unlimited access at the touch of their fingers. They are being tempted with things that our generation did not face, or faced at a much older age. It’s not just alcohol, weed and fooling around with girls any more. Now the new normal is sexting, pain killers and violent video games—and those are just the “good kids.”
When I was recently speaking in South Africa, Dr. Martin Luther King’s right hand man, Dr. Bernard Lafayette, reminded me of Dr. King’s final wish. He said that we needed to institutionalize this non-violence message and take it into the schools to a younger generation. That’s what we intend to do: help this young generation find peace on the inside, so that they have no need for the foolishness which they are using to try and stop the pain. Please help.
Founder & President
The Power of Peace Project, Inc.