04/28/07 — A needed talk: Confronting gang issue requires candor and alternatives

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A needed talk: Confronting gang issue requires candor and alternatives

This weekend, experts from around the region were expected to meet to address a subject few people really want to talk much about.

Community Empowering Youth — Gang Intervention is a summit of sorts on gangs and their influence in Wayne and Wilson counties. The event is sponsored by Smart Choices for Youth Inc., which recently received a grant to further its efforts in keeping children on the right path — and safe.

The first objective of the conference is education — getting adults, and young people, up to speed on what to watch for and how to help.

The second is giving students the opportunity to see that there is a community out there for them, one that is interested in what they are doing and willing to support them in their efforts to stay on the right path. Organizers also want to show youths that there are plenty of other ways to pass their time other than joining a gang.

There was a gospel fest scheduled, in addition to many other opportunities to share a little fun and a little knowledge.

But the most important result of this weekend’s event should be a real discussion about the threat of gangs in these communities — and what we are going to do about them.

No one wants to admit gangs are a problem in their community. It isn’t good for families, and it isn’t good for business.

So, it isn’t easy to get people to take the issue seriously — even when there is plenty of evidence that there is reason for concern.

Teaching parents and other adults who are around children about the warning signs, as well as arming them with the information they need to talk to young people about the dangers of gang membership, are critical objectives in this process.

And there should be some consideration of developing more programs that empower youths and give them somewhere to go after school. Educational opportunities, self-esteem training as well as sports programs are good tools to keep children healthy, happy and off the streets and away from gang influence.

Open discussions with law enforcement and other public officials about the activities and crimes associated with gangs also will keep the focus on making sure these groups do not get a foothold here or anywhere else.

This weekend’s event is just the beginning. This is the first of many discussions that this and other communities need to have about battling this foe.

But in the end, a community determined to make sure teenagers have direction, support and alternatives will send gangs to a much less interested county — and probably save a few lives in the process.

Published in Editorials on April 28, 2007 10:45 PM