The Meridian Star
Hundreds of people gathered in Dumont Plaza Oct. 7 for a prayer vigil and call to action to prevent acts of violence like those that recently claimed the lives of two young Meridian men.
Congregations and pastors from churches all across Meridian participated. A similar prayer vigil took place at City Hall two days earlier.
The impetus for the prayer vigils was the Aug. 21 fatal shooting of Jaddarian Jimerson, 23, who was gunned down execution style in the 2900 block of 10th Avenue while walking home from work, and the Sept. 17 death of Randarious Smith, 21, who was also shot and killed.
A Meridian teenager and two men in their 20s have been charged with murder in Jimerson's death. Smith's cousin, 22-year-old Rondarious Phillips, has been charged with manslaughter in Smith's death.
There have been other shootings recently as well that, thankfully, did not result in death.
We commend those who turned out for the prayer vigils. Recognizing a problem exists is a step in the right direction. We agree with the Rev. Odell Hopkins, pastor of West Mt. Moriah Baptist Church and organizer of the Dumont Plaza prayer vigil, that the problem of youth violence needs to be addressed outside of churches and civic organizations.
"Until we actually hit the streets where the problems really are, we are not addressing it," Hopkins said.
We hope the community responds to the call for action.
Youth-on-youth crime is responsible for much of the nation's violence. Between 1976 to 2005, 65 percent of all U.S. murders were committed by those age 18 to 34, according to U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. Nearly 53 percent of those killed during the same time fell in that same age bracket.
You don't have to look at the numbers to know where the problem lies. Just ask Meridian High School senior Kyshari DuBose.
"It is a shame to see us young people hurting and killing each other," DuBose said. a
Residents can make a difference locally by volunteering their time to organizations that help at-risk youths before they get into trouble.
One such organization is the Boys and Girls Clubs of East Mississippi, Inc., which has been working with young people for more than 23 years.
Among other things, the organization provides after-school tutoring, workshops on gang prevention, conflict resolution, self-esteem building, goal setting and teenage pregnancy prevention.
Volunteers are also needed for the Meridian Public School District's Study Buddy Tutoring/Mentoring Program. Study Buddy volunteers meet a minimum of once a week with a student at his or her school to help the student develop better reading, writing, math and basic study skills.
Business owners can do their part as well.
In February, Meridian-based Mobile Solutions partnered with Clarkdale High School to sponsor a business-to-student mentoring program. Students shadow employees at Mobile Solutions for five hours a week and at the end of the semester receive a $500 scholarship to the college of their choice.
There are many more worthy programs locally that help at-risk youths.
And you don't have to volunteer to make a difference. There are few of us who do not know of a child that needs a positive role model. Perhaps you can help fill that void.
If you only reach one child, you have made a difference. Studies have shown that a person from a family of high school dropouts who attends college is much more likely to raise children who will also attend college, breaking the cycle of poverty for future generations.
A child encouraged to succeed may be one less teenager or young adult who later becomes a crime statistic.
And despite arguments to the contrary, tougher laws likely won't fix the problem. According to the International Centre for Prison Studies, the U.S. leads the world in incarceration rates, with an estimated 730 out of every 100,000 residents serving time in jail or prison.
Mississippi's prison population is much higher than the national average, with 955 out of every 100,000 residents in the state incarcerated, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. Only Georgia, Louisiana and Texas have higher incarceration rates.
And yet, violence among young people persists.
Those convicted of violent crimes should be imprisoned, but that won't stop teenagers and young adults headed down the wrong path from committing violent crimes in the first place.
To do that we have to show at-risk children there is a better way.