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
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
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