Pockets of Frayser have been plagued with poverty and youth violence for years, but a group of Frayser High School students are taking matters into their own hands.
Twelve students make up the Frayser Youth Council, which is tasked with making suggestions on how to reduce youth violence from a young person's perspective. Those suggestions are fed into the Memphis Shelby Crime Commission's Operation Safe Community plan, a 26-point plan to improve the city and county's overall safety rate by 2016.
Frayser High senior Kenneth Douglass said he's seen many of his peers fall victim to gangs, drugs, and poverty, and he hopes this council can encourage them to take a different route.
"I've seen friends not have things to wear, so they don't come to school," said Douglass, chairman of the council. "[I've seen] friends selling drugs, or their mom or dad is smoking drugs and they take them and come to school high. I try to encourage them as much as I can and let them know their education is free so they need to take advantage of it. This is their way out."
The council held its first event, the Frayser Youth Violence Prevention Summit and Summer Celebration, on May 19th at Frayser High School. The summit, attended by around 130 people, highlighted the problem of violence in Frayser, and students discussed how it can be prevented.
Mayor A C Wharton and Pastor T.J. Johnson, a former Frayser resident and the spokesperson for the White House initiative regarding youth crime prevention in Memphis, spoke on ways to reduce youth violence, such as providing better after-school programs and outlets for kids to voice their feelings and encouraging kids to avoid hanging around the wrong crowd.
James Nelson, the council's coordinator and director of youth services for the city, said he's especially interested in youth violence prevention because he's the father of four girls.
"It's of utmost importance that they be able to live in a community where they can be free to go to the park without being afraid of who's going to blow their brains out," Nelson said. "I can't just be concerned about them. I also have to be concerned about the next child too. Making sure that we have these conversations and that we have programming for youth is vitally important."
The council was awarded a $10,000 grant from Target to fund its initiatives. The council is using $5,000 of those funds to provide mini-grants of $1,000 to Frayser organizations that focus on education, jobs, counseling and mentoring, and faith-based initiatives. There will be $500 grants awarded for nonprofits that focus on athletics and the arts. Organizations can apply for the grants online through May 31st at the city of Memphis' website under the "Government News" tab.
"We have some serious pockets of young people who are involved in crime, but I think that we have a huge number of success stories that go untold every day of kids who are doing the right thing," Nelson said. "Those stories are often overshadowed by kids who go out and make foolish decisions. I definitely think this council can help change that."