Merlene Davis: New youth commission must quickly find solutions

Herald-Leader columnistJune 9, 2011 

Mayor Jim Gray and First District Councilman Chris Ford announced the formation of a commission to focus on youth development and safety in Fayette County on Wednesday.

But some in attendance at the news conference believe the severity of the issues that face youth can't wait for a commission's finding.

Aaron Mosley, the coordinator of City Life, an inner-city ministry for Bluegrass Youth for Christ, and the youth pastor for Mount Calvary Missionary Baptist Church, wants action before the problems worsen.

Concern has been growing since two young people were killed in May and another wounded.

College student Tommisha Taylor, 19, was the latest murder victim. On May 30 an intruder shot and killed her and wounded her friend Trayvon "Trey" Williams, 20, at the home of Taylor's mother.

Taylor and Williams reportedly knew Brian Edward Carr Jr., 19, who was gunned down on East Main Street May 2.

The violence has pushed some people to form groups such as Save Our Youth/Stop the Violence, which has a Facebook page.

Ford approached Gray to form the commission because of the recent tragedies.

"We are sending a clear message that we care about our young people," Gray said. "When our community faces a challenge, we don't hide from it, we don't ignore it. We reach out and work on it."

The Commission on Youth Development and Public Safety, Gray said, will identify problems, check out facts, pull various people together who care about the issue and then work on solutions.

Initially, the group will focus on three areas: safety, health and crime prevention; leisure, recreation and quality of life; and personal development and economic stimulus.

No one has been named to the commission yet.

"We're leaving the membership of the group open right now," Ford said. "I want to hear from people who are interested in serving and who are committed to young people."

The commission will be a diverse group, including representatives of the social services network, public safety, the faith community, the city, young people and representatives of youth organizations, Ford said.

Gang activity is to blame for some of the recent violence, said Lexington Police Chief Ronnie Bastin.

Although police are monitoring the situation closely, "There is a tremendous need for education in that area," Bastin said.

"We have a great opportunity to educate parents, grandparents and some kids about the signs, what to look for if your kid is being recruited into a gang. That is the kind of information that would be really helpful and that may make a difference in the long run," he said.

Ford stressed the need for the business community to get involved, as well.

"One of our focuses will be personal development and economic stimulus," Ford said. "We recognize that our young people want the opportunity to be employed. The business community can be a very strong instrument to help us because the government just doesn't have enough slots (in summer employment programs) for all our youth."

School officials also will be asked to be a part of a possible solution, he said.

The commission will be asked to present a preliminary finding sometime in late summer or early fall.

But for some, like Mosley, that's not soon enough. Area churches would be willing to conduct activities to occupy idle minds now, he said.

"We have buildings in First District that are empty, that are not occupied. With a set of keys and the electricity turned on, there are people in this room who can occupy these kids' minds by this evening."

Programs such as midnight basketball, arts and crafts and other activities can be started quickly if a building was made available, he said.

Mosley has been asked to be a member of the commission and said that he is seriously considering it. That's fine. I hope he does.

The problems our youth are facing are big enough for everyone to get involved. This is not the time to hide. It is the time we all made ourselves available to help.

We can't allow this violence to get a better foot-hold on Lexington's youth.

Reach Merlene Davis at (859) 231-3218 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3218, or mdavis1@herald-leader.com.

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