Clergy to offer ‘Right Choices’ for at-risk students
Ken Watts | 9/6/2013, 6:02 a.m.
DeKalb clergy, police and school officials are joining forces in a new effort to steer troubled teens away from crime.
At an Aug. 29 news conference at the DeKalb Police Tucker headquarters, religious leaders from 10 DeKalb places of worship said they are developing “Right Choices” – a secular after-school program for at-risk teen boys that will offer help with their studies and social skills and improve their school attendance and their lives.
The leaders from a number of Baptist, AME and Christian denominations in Decatur, Lithonia, Stone Mountain, Tucker and Atlanta were invited by DeKalb Police Chief Cedric Alexander to form the partnership with his department and the DeKalb School System.
They will work with high schools to identify truant students whose troubles with the law will likely lead them to prison rather than graduation.
Alexander said they are targeting the most at-risk kids.
“I’m not talking about the kid who is a B student and who wants to be an A student,” he said. “I’m talking about the kid who is barely coming to school.”
After-school programs are not new to DeKalb places of worship. Many have had them for decades, but the clergy said the time has come for broad-based action to save a generation of young men.
They said the Right Choices program with its mentorship, academic tutoring and social guidance is in the early stages of development and will be coordinated by the Rev. Kerwin Lee, pastor of Berean Christian Church in Stone Mountain.
Over the summer, a string of crimes committed by youth alarmed Atlanta, DeKalb and Decatur residents, among them, the August shooting death of 46-year-old Jerrick Jackson by four teen suspects, ages 17 to 19.
Jackson, the brother of DeKalb megachurch pastor Wiley Jackson, was killed during a robbery in his northwest Atlanta home.
In the spring, police arrested a 16-year-old in the March 28 killing of Columbia High senior Dominique Boyer, who was just months from graduation.
Boyer, 18, was shot while visiting a friend at the Austin Oaks apartment complex on Glenwood Road.
Bishop Quincy Carswell, pastor of Covenant Ministeries Christian Center in Decatur, said the religious leaders are concerned about the spike in youth crime over the summer and are speaking with one voice.
“We will work with the police and school system to develop a program that helps get troubled youth on the right path and keep them there,” he said. “What we’re saying is that the walls of our churches are down now. We see DeKalb County as our pulpit.” Carswell said the church has basically been silent on crime but is doing a lot of funerals.
The religious leaders promise to provide specifics on the Right Choices program in the coming weeks but said the initiative will be an ecumenical effort with participating churches, synagogues and mosques working with school districts to identify youth who might benefit from after-school training.
The goal is not just crime prevention because they will be on the lookout for teens with hidden talents that can be developed.