06/15/08 — Goldsboro Mayor Al King meets with local church leaders

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Goldsboro Mayor Al King meets with local church leaders

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on June 15, 2008 2:02 AM

Reaching out to one child.

That is all it would take to start the healing process in Goldsboro's inner city, Mayor Al King said.

A mentor, teacher, neighbor or baseball coach who really cares.

That's all an at-risk child really needs to form the belief that he or she can escape a life on the streets.

These were the mayor's responses Thursday afternoon as he met with several local church leaders who wanted to know what they could do to help the city's black youths achieve something more.

"Ninety percent of our problem is young black males. I could show you. It's a fact," King said. "And it's a difficult problem because it starts so early."

King believes it starts long before high school.

Black males begin to feel isolated, "treated differently."

Many lose interest in school and grow up looking for a way to "fit in," the mayor said.

"After a while they get thrown out of school or drop out of school, and they end up on the street or in jail. Once they reach that point, it's challenging to turn them around. That is why we need to get to them before they reach that point," King said.

The Rev. Christian Umeofia, from Christian Outreach for Missions, said he was "shocked" to learn that many black boys were beginning lives of crime even before the age of 10.

"We need to reach out to these children -- these 7- and 8-year-olds being recruited for drugs and other things. They are very much at risk," he said. "Our young people are being recruited into a life of crime."

King said he believes progress can start with a single child.

So he challenged those in attendance to do just that, reach out to help a child in need.

"Reach out and find some young boy or some young girl to touch -- to help," he said.

And if every ministry makes that its goal, hundreds of children might be saved.

Pastor Bill Ordelt thinks so, anyway.

"When you think about it, there are over 100 churches," he said.

But it is not just the responsibility of church leaders to help heal the inner city, King said.

"This is our responsibility -- not the church, not the mayor," he said. "This problem is big enough so that everyone can have a part of it."

And if city residents turn a blind eye to the problem, someone will still be there to reach those children.

But King warned they are the wrong kind of people -- the drug dealers and gang members.

"If we do nothing, they are going to join these groups, these gangs," he said. "And they are going to say, 'We're going to show you just how much we can do to you, establishment."

John Barnes, representing Greenleaf Christian Church, had an idea -- one he feels will deter children from entering gang life, one he believes could reach dozens of at-risk youths at once.

He suggested bringing in a production out of Durham called "Campaign 4 Change."

The drama, created by former Durham gang leader Otis Lyons, relies on the influence, popularity and the culture of hip-hop to attract children to a message of change.

It condemns the life choices Lyons himself made.

But whatever solutions came out of the meeting, King said the fact that a gathering took place at all is a sign of progress.

"You know, these kids, what they will do, they will find something to do. They will hang around people they think do care. Well, we need to make sure those people are the right kind of people."

And if more like those who turned out for Thursday's lunch decide to take action, he said, he knows they could be.