“Where are the adults? They need to do something about these youth!” How often do we hear this complaint, year in and year out. “These young people need something to do, a place to go, and adult involvement.” If we all had a penny for making or hearing these comments we’d all be rich.
Well, there actually are people doing things in Austin. Pastor Rosetta Dotson and her staff, for instance, are attempting to address the problems of violence in the Austin community. There isn’t some big name or organization attached to this effort-it is a grassroots coming-together of people who know the issues and are willing to address them.
The office space of Walk By Faith, 5453 W. North Ave., isn’t huge. They have a room where parents can come and talk with their children. There is another room where young people sit and interact with each other, as well as a kitchen where staff feeds the young people.
“Many of the youth don’t know the difference between love and hate,” explained Pastor Dotson. “Our outreach leaders go out and interact with these young people, and they are the ones who recruit them. My part is to show them love and compassion. We have different people coming in weekly teaching them anger management, drug counseling and violence prevention. We do this every Saturday from 3 to 5 p.m. We just got funded with the help of Senator Rickey Hendon [5th Dist.] and Senator Emile Jones [House Leader]. I took a letter to him, he liked the idea, he loved it and he funded us.
AWN: How do youth know this place exists?
Dotson: Our outreach workers and outreach director go out and pass out fliers. We have put [notices] in the newspapers and put up posters. We are also friends with CeaseFire* and will be teaching more about getting out into the community. We’re expecting a big change. Our sign outside states we’re supposed to love one another. Violence kills kids’ dreams. And we want to venture out not only on the West Side. We want to go to Englewood and maybe set up an office out there.
AWN: Dannie [Thompson], what does it take to be successful in this kind of work?
Dannie: I come from this ward. I did everything in Austin, but it’s time for the men to be men and to take back our community. I got teenage boys coming up. It’s time to take back what is really ours. We can’t do it sitting down. We got to take some steps. We’ve been reaching out to the men in the neighborhood, talking to them and passing out fliers. I know how to debate with them and get on the same level because I am from here. Trying to get them to focus on and just spend an hour of their time and do something constructive. It just means getting together and going out to some activity, just communicate with each other and take away the anger and put something positive and take that anger away. A lot of our youth are caught up in an eight-block radius, and they don’t get out of these blocks.
AWN: Sharon [Williams], what message are you sending to the girls?
Sharon: The main thing is to stay in school, that is number one. Another thing we are teaching them is how to love one another. It’s hard for single black parents to raise their kids. We try to teach about using protection and doing good and positive things. We plan trips and outings so they can experience life beyond their community. Our specific target ages are 10 to 16.
Drug counselor Earline Holmes said, “We teach the kids about the effects, the negative consequences of drugs, how it affects the family as a whole, the community. We teach them about their spirituality, how it affects them as a teen growing up, as an adult and educate them on the addiction process.
“Now that they know there is a program, they will start to come because there is a need. They know there is someone they can come to and talk to. Then we can give them education on the concepts of drugs and sex and tell them where they can goand what clinics that are available. I used to work at St. Elizabeth, which is Resurrection now, so I have connections there with all the counselors and the detox unit. I have a hotline where people can contact me anytime.”
For more information or to make contributions contact: Pastor Rosetta Dotson, Walk By Faith Mission, P.O. 24408, Chicago 60624. Phone: 773/310-6269.
CeaseFire is the first initiative of the Chicago Project. It works with community-based organizations to develop and implement strategies to reduce and prevent violence, particularly shootings and killings. CeaseFire relies on outreach workers, faith leaders, and other community leaders to intervene in conflicts, or potential conflicts, and promote alternatives to violence. CeaseFire also involves cooperation with police, and it depends heavily on a strong public education campaign to instill in people the message that shootings and violence are not acceptable.