"There was a time when, if you talked about gangs, you could pretty much bet that they were in the inner city. All of that has changed," said Tony Parker, a minister who has devoted his life to helping young people make the right choices.
Parker and representatives from law enforcement, state agencies and several organizations met last Thursday morning to discuss the 2009 anti-gang and abstinence campaign. The summit will be held March 30 through April 1 at Carter-Parramoe Academy and is open to any public, private or home-schooled student in Gadsden County between the ages of 12 and 16. The cost of the three-day summit, which includes a full lunch and snack, is $10 per student. Applications will be available at schools and all agencies involved in the event. Transportation is not provided.
This will not be, according to Parker, one of those programs where participants are inundated with materials they are likely to throw away and speakers they will ignore. This program, he said, is different. Participants will have an interactive role in all workshops.
"My intent is for them to leave having been exposed to the ‘wow factor.’ That means we are going to be creative because we know it takes a lot to get the attention of today’s kids and keep that attention. When we talk to them about choices and making career decisions, we're going to have people there who practice these careers every day.
"We're not filling them with information and throwing them out there; we're showing them that good choices are attainable by making resources available from college to the military. Once the summit is over we will stay in contact and we will make many of those resource people available as well," he said.
The plan is for the workshops and resource people to be all-inclusive. For instance, Parker said that people from the community will be asked to have lunch with the participants. A student with a question which is sensitive to them might be reluctant to ask it in an open forum, but will not hesitate to ask that same question in another setting or when a resource person is sitting next to them.
Abstinence was not an after-thought for the summit, Parker said.
"A lot of people would put anti-gang and abstinence at opposite ends of the spectrum. We have found that it's not the case. A lot of gangs will use sex as part of the initiation process and they will also use sex to lure and keep female gang members. You have to remember, kids gravitate to these gangs initially because they are searching for a place they feel they belong. Unfortunately, too many girls feel that sex equals love," Parker said.
And, Parker added, gangs have also discovered technology and are actively recruiting and building their ranks through the Internet. To help combat that part of gang recruitment, Parker enlisted the help of the Attorney General's Office, which has an active Internet safety program.
"The Attorney General's Office is going to be a large part of this summit in terms of Internet safety, as well as the Gadsden County Sheriff's Office, Florida Highway Patrol, Refuge House, Department of Juvenile Justice, the Quincy Police Department, Tallahassee Community College, FAMU, FSU and several faith-based organizations," Parker said.
For more information on the summit, call Parker at 545-4887 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.