Leaders to steer teens away from crime with "Right Choices"
Ken Watts | 9/6/2013, 6 a.m.
TUCKER DeKalb pastors, police and school officials announced on Aug. 29 that they are joining forces in a new effort to steer troubled teens away from crime.
At a news conference at DeKalb Police Headquarters, the ministers said Chief Cedric Alexander approached them about forming a partnership with his department and the school district to develop Right Choices, a secular after school program that will offer “at-risk” teen boys help with their studies and social skills and improve their school attendance.
The chief and the ministers said the congregations will partner with high schools to identify students whose truancy or troubles with the law will likely lead them to prison rather than graduation.
“I’m not talking about the kid who is a B student and who wants to be an A student,” Alexander said. “I’m talking about the kid who is barely coming to school.”
Individual DeKalb churches have been offering after school programs for decades but the ministers said the time has come for broad-based action to save a generation of young men.
The ministers 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.
“We are speaking with one voice, that 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,” said Bishop Quincey Carswell, pastor of Covenant Ministeries in Decatur.
Carswell said all the ministers are concerned about the spike in crime over the summer especially among teenagers.
“In light of the many shootings, what we’re saying is that the walls of our churches are down now,” said Carswell. “We see DeKalb county as our pulpit.”
In August, police arrested two older teens -ages 18 and 19 — in the shooting death of Jerrick Jackson, 47, who was killed during a robbery in northwest Atlanta. The death of Jackson, the brother of DeKalb megachurch pastor Wiley Jackson, was part of a string of crimes that have alarmed Atlanta, DeKalb and Decatur residents this year.
In the spring, police arrested a 16-year-old juvenile in the March 28 killing of 18-year-old Dominique Boyer, a Columbia High School senior who was just months from graduation. Boyer was shot while visiting a friend at the Austin Oaks apartment complex on Glenwood Road, tragically in the wrong place at the wrong time.
“The church has basically been silent on crime,” Carswell said. “We’re doing a lot of funerals.”
The ministers 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 in what they emphasized would be a secular program.
The goal is not just crime prevention, said the pastors, but they’ll also be looking for those with hidden talents that can benefit society.
“We pastor people every weekend. This is different,” said Rev. William Flippen, pastor of First Piney Grove Baptist Church. “We’re going to go to the high schools that we adopt and ask the principals to recommend to us 15 to 25 young men who have potential to grow into leaders even though they may come from difficult family circucmstances or may have already been incarcerated.”
State Sen. Ron Ramsey, chief legal officer for DeKalb schools, said principals would cooperate with the effort.
“The schools will continue their existing after school programs but this is a new intiative to enhance our ability to better serve students,” Ramsey said.
“The church has got make a difference,” Carswell said. “If we don’t, I believe the county will go to the dogs.”