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Module 2: WHO CARES?

(Page 23) Resource sheet 2

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AN ENDANGERED SPECIES

Teenage violence in the mainly black areas of Atlanta in the USA seemed by 1988 to be unstoppable. It was fuelled by a sense of hopelessness and discrimination and, in many areas, by deprivation and a severe increase in drug use and gang wars. Black young men were increasingly being seen as an endangered species because so many were being killed on the streets.

A small group in one of the city's foremost black high schools began to ask themselves whether they were condemned to this cycle of violence or whether there was something they themselves could do.

With considerable courage, they sent an invitation to the students in the same classes in a school which was their chief rival and opponent. To their surprise and alarm, forty turned up.

The meeting, however, was not only peaceful, it was astonishingly productive. The combined group decided that, for their part, they would end the fighting and make this stick in their respective schools. It began almost immediately to take hold, as the younger boys began to follow the lead of their seniors.

Wanting to stick together, the original group decided to band together in an organization they called Black Teens for Advancement (BTA). Although this was restricted to males, the girls did not want to be left out and formed their own organisation.

Starting from their base in the two schools in South-East Atlanta, BTA found that they were being invited to speak about what they had begun. More than 2,000 students from the twenty three high schools are now taking part in the meetings and programmes.

One of their teachers, Edward Johnson, whom the students asked to be their adviser, said "This organisation aims to save the community from the dangers of alcohol, drugs, sexual immorality and low academic standards, which are destroying black youth in America at an alarming rate." Crime and violence in the Atlanta school system has decreased by forty per cent since the activity of BTA, according to Lt. Collier of the Atlanta Department of Public Safety.

Edward Johnson said, "These men are totally committed to the idea that they have a mission - to save the children - and a reason - to do God's will. I am equally committed to them and their dreams."

Andrew Young, for eight years the mayor of the city, spoke of "a city too busy to hate." His young constituents are picking up his words and making them a reality not only in the glittering business district, but in the much tougher and deprived areas.

Polestar no. 83 Aug/Sept 1990

R1-M2-PAGE 23

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