Writing sympathy cards to the mother of an 18-year-old from Lexington who was shot to death recently was an exercise that sent a message to the teenage boys in an Urban League program operating in several Fayette County Public schools.
"Whenever violence occurs, it affects our whole community," Quincy Murdock, a school district social worker and one of the program's leaders, told the students Tuesday. The group is called MADE, an acronym for Motivated All Day Every Day. There are MADE groups meeting one hour a week at Tates Creek and Bryan Station high schools, Leestown, Winburn, Lexington Traditional Magnet middle schools and Martin Luther King Jr. Academy, and STEAM Academy. Overall 150 students are participating.
On Tuesday, a group led by Murdock and MADE founder and CEO Logan Avritt met at lunchtime at Leestown Middle School. The boys talked about what they would do to stay away from violence and how they would carry out their life plans.
Many have dreams of becoming professional athletes, but the men pointed out the slim chances of making it as a pro athlete and asked them how they would carry out their back-up plans.
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"While we don't ever want to cut out your dreams," Murdock said, "we want you all to be realistic."
He encouraged them to go to college and to aim to open their own businesses.
Avritt and Murdock follow the students' grades, focus on their writing and guide them in getting enough credits to graduate. They've helped students get jobs and taken them on field trips. Avritt said he's made himself available to the students at night and on weekends.
Avritt said he developed the concept for the anti-violence program years ago when he spent time in prison. He also spent time in a gang.
"I just decided I needed to make a change and help others," he said.
Avritt teamed up with Murdock when Avritt moved from Portland, Ore., to Lexington, and they've worked under the auspices of the Lexington Urban League. About 1,500 students have participated in the program since 2008.
On Tuesday, when one student said he hoped to cure breast cancer, Murdock told him to research the careers he might pursue to make that happen.
The boys talked about the sadness they felt when fellow teens died as a result of gun violence and how they could avert it.
"Real friends influence you to do better," Murdock told them. "You want to stay around positive people, be conscious of your surroundings and be careful about what you bring into your life."
One message that Avritt gives at each school, he said, is that "education is key."
Daevion Riley, 14, who wants to become a mechanical engineer, said MADE had taught him to "have respect for people who care about you."
When he is an adult, Nasir Lyons, 13, said "I want to help kids stay out of the streets and stop struggling."
Urban League of Lexington-Fayette County President and CEO P.G. Peeples said he recently lost some city funding for the program and is trying to raise $40,000.
"We need to be doing this in a much larger way," he said.
People who want to volunteer or participate in MADE can call the Urban League at (859) 233-1561.