NAACP dis­cusses at-risk youth

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By AN­DREW RICHARD­SON arichard­son@somd­news.com

Dozens of com­mu­nity mem­bers gath­ered for a NAACP-hosted town hall meet­ing on Satur­day at Bethel Com­mu­nity Church in Bryans Road to dis­cuss pri­mar­ily what adults can do to pre­vent at-risk youth from en­ter­ing or re­turn­ing to the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem.

Charles County States At­tor­ney Tony Cov­ing­ton (D) was in at­ten­dance, field­ing ques­tions and fa­cil­i­tat­ing dis­cus­sion in open-di­a­logue.

Many agreed there is not the same sense of com­mu­nity they had been ac­cus­tomed to when they were younger, and that adults should strive to serve as role mod­els to chil­dren through pos­i­tive re­in­force­ment — even though they may only be a neigh­bor. They hope to re-es­tab­lish that sense through meet­ings such as this.

“Ed­u­ca­tion is ev­ery­thing,” said Jan­ice Wil­son, pres­i­dent of the Charles County NAACP chap­ter. “You can never give up on a child,” adding that par­ents need to be will­ing to go the ex­tra mile for their chil­dren to en­sure they are do­ing well in school and stay­ing out of trou­ble.

While the vast ma­jor­ity of kids are do­ing all the right things, said Cov­ing­ton, it’s not hard to de­ter­mine the youths that are com­mit­ting crimes; they are the same ones who have poor at­ten­dance at school.

“The kids that need to be reached the most, are of­ten the hard­est to get to,” he said. “Never miss the op­por­tu­nity to im­part some wis­dom.”

Re­gard­ing con­cerns of men­tal health, Cov­ing­ton said the school sys­tem is of­ten the best way to catch a po­ten­tial prob­lem be­fore it arises. While there are treat­ment op­tions avail­able, “How are you go­ing to get the kids to the re­sources?” he asked, when the par­ents are not will­ing to make it a pri­or­ity?

But not ev­ery­thing can be blamed on bad par­ent­ing, some pointed out.

“The ac­count­abil­ity has to hap­pen be­fore they get to the court­house,” said Ted Jones, Chief In­ves­ti­ga­tor for the States At­tor­neys Of­fice. “Young peo­ple have to make the right de­ci­sion them­selves.”

And adults have to en­cour­age young peo­ple to al­ways do the right thing, he con­tin­ued, all the time.

Sev­eral men and women in the group sug­gested kids would ben­e­fit from a recre­ational boys and girls club that would of­fer a pos­i­tive after-school en­vi­ron­ment, as well as in­tro­duce chil­dren to com­mu­nity role mod­els.

“It is some­thing that we def­i­nitely need in Charles County,” agreed Cov­ing­ton, adding that com­mu­nity-par­tic­i­pa­tion in lo­cal gov­ern­ment af­fairs is crit­i­cal to im­ple­ment­ing change. “I can’t say it enough: what the cit­i­zens de­mand from their gov­ern­ment, they will get, but they have to de­mand it.”

Tiara Wil­liams, a 17-yearold ris­ing se­nior at Thomas Stone High School, sug­gested that the best way to reach young peo­ple is through an­other young per­son. Kids are most likely to lis­ten to some­one their own age, she said.

Wil­liams’ sug­ges­tion snow­balled as many oth­ers thought that was a good idea, and per­haps there might be a way to des­ig­nate young am­bas­sadors to reach out to trou­bled teens.

When the con­ver­sa­tion shifted to how teens should in­ter­act when stopped by po­lice, Jones — who was a long-time Mary­land State Po­lice trooper — ad­vised that re­gard­less of the cir­cum­stance, they should al­ways com­ply with an of­fi­cer to avoid es­ca­lat­ing the sit­u­a­tion.

“Most of­fi­cers aren’t look­ing to ar­rest you, they’re just look­ing for you to com­ply with their di­rec­tive,” he said.

Chal­lenge it in court, not on the side of the road, Cov­ing­ton ad­vised.

At the con­clu­sion of the two-hour dis­cus­sion, Wil­son thanked ev­ery­one in at­ten­dance and urged them to take what they heard and ap­ply to in their lives.

“I think this has been a pow­er­ful con­ver­sa­tion,” said Wil­son. “And now we have to get to work.”

STAFF PHOTO BY AN­DREW RICHARD­SON

Charles County States At­tor­ney Tony Cov­ing­ton (D) fa­cil­i­tates dis­cus­sion about what can be done to pre­vent youth from en­ter­ing the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem with NAACP chap­ter pres­i­dent Jan­ice Wil­son at a town hall meet­ing on Satur­day.

Tiara Wil­liams, a 17–year–old ris­ing se­nior at Thomas Stone High School, chimes in at a town hall meet­ing fo­cused on the dis­cus­sion of at-risk youth. Wil­liams sug­gested that trou­bled teens may be more likely to lis­ten to ad­vice given by some­one of their own age.

STAFF PHOTOS BY AN­DREW RICHARD­SON

Ted Jones, chief in­ves­ti­ga­tor with the Charles County State’s At­tor­ney’s Of­fice, speaks at the town hall meet­ing, dis­cussing ac­count­abil­ity and how teens should act when con­fronted by law en­force­ment.

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