Glimpse of Inner City Life

There is hope for addressing one of America's most serious inner-city issues, if only we stop turning a blind eye.

It's disconcerting, to say the least, to slouch down in a booth at McDonald's to make it less likely to be shot in the back of the head.

Nonetheless, that's where I recently found myself while on assignment for my current writing project – a book about Empowered Youth USA, a program designed to help wayward teen males get back on track.

Program founder, Colleen Adams, and I were joined by "Zee", who was giving us a tour of his neighborhood, one of the most crime-ridden areas in the country, situated in Miami.

As I sat across the table from Zee, I had a chance to study the button pinned to his shirt. It was in honor of his nineteen-year-old home girl, who had been shot dead in the street just days before her twentieth birthday.

Zee described life in his neighborhood as the possibility of gunfire "popping off" at any moment. Those children we had seen running around the playground at the school? They looked as carefree as any group of youngsters, but Zee explained that any one of them might have a gun and start shooting or be shot without warning.

I'd heard that children who grow up in high crime areas often develop PTSD, similar to kids from war-torn countries. That fact didn't have much impact on me until I felt like a sitting duck at McDonald's. After only twenty minutes in that 'hood, I was concerned for my safety.

I understood, without a doubt, that children who experience the murder of their friends and family members would fear for their life on a regular basis. The floral memorials on the sidewalks that mark the scene of the crimes are a constant reminder.

"How can this be?" I thought. "This is America. The greatest country in the world."

I developed new-found respect for Colleen Adams and her Empowered Youth USA efforts to provide these boys with a way out. Colleen and her dedicated volunteers work tirelessly with negligible financial support, yet Colleen cannot turn her back on the youth. "Who will help them if I don't?" she asks.

And she's right. Without intervention, these delinquent teens turn into career criminals and pack the jails, with no chance of rehabilitation. But if we can nip the problem while the boys are still impressionable, wouldn't that be a much better solution for the boys as well as their families and society as a whole?

One thing is for sure. When a young man in America says that his plan for the future is simply to "live to the end of the day", then we must do something to address the tragedy of poverty and crime.

Kudos to programs like Empowered Youth USA that give kids like Zee hope for a future.



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