This year I was chosen to serve on the Georgia House of Representatives Study Committee on Gang and Youth Violence Prevention (HR585). I am very encouraged that the House has moved this issue to the forefront, as we all see this as a growing threat to our youth and our communities. Our committee is made up of five State Representatives; Commissioners from the Department of Juvenile Justice and GA Human Services; as well as the GA Superintendent of Schools, representatives from the Juvenile Courts, and another nonprofit organization along with mine. We are tasked with completing our study by year’s end in order to make recommendations to the Speaker of the House regarding legislation, funding, strategy, etc. I am very excited to be involved in seeking solutions to this growing epidemic and to have the opportunity to affect public policy regarding corrections and public safety. We are meeting in a different city every month as we tour the state. Last month we met in Savannah, this month we’re in Augusta, then we will go to Lagrange, Macon, and end up the year in Atlanta. We open each event with a press conference, and then we begin hearing from experts in various fields: Sheriff’s Office, GBI, Education, Corrections, etc. We field questions from the audience and also our committee has questions for the presenters. This format has been very effective and great ideas are already emerging, as well as alarming statistics. I am honored and humbled that POPP is at the table, and we will make the most of this opportunity as we try to rescue a young generation that is in great peril. Stay tuned…
We began the Summer kick-off launching our flagship program “Protect the Dream” with six Metro-Atlanta high school football teams. This is our eight-week Character and Leadership Development program for student-athletes. Over 100 standout players competed to win the coveted “Mason Tomkins Legacy Award.” This POPP award goes to the young person who exemplifies the most outstanding character over the campaign; a leader on and off the field, a positive role model for their peers, and an asset for coaches and teachers. This Summer’s award went to Stephen Michaels, linebacker for the State Champion Milton Eagles. As one coach put it, “Stephen is the kind of young man that we all want our daughters to marry.” That says it all.
This Summer we also launched our POPP “40 Days to Freedom” program with inmates at the Cobb County Jail. We were given the maximum-security block where there have been recent gang violence issues. 24 men, most of whom are rivals or did not know or like one another, were chosen because of their influence among the other residents. This is an incentive-based project where they are equipped to use their influence for peace and earn perks and rewards for ALL the inmates on the block if there is a noticeable difference in behavior among the other inmates and themselves. After eight short weeks, these rivals came together as teams and earned the reward for the whole block to be able to watch Sunday NFL football—which is a BIG deal for them. With this approach, we can help these “men of influence” learn to role model good behavior without losing the respect of their peers and rivals. Incentive-based rehabilitation is the future of corrections if we are going to change. I believe the time has come.
We also launched our POPP “Attitude Science” program with incoming freshmen at Marietta High school. These kids were chosen to participate in a Summer initiative called EXCEL, and POPP became a big part of it. These kids earned credits over the Summer and we prepared them to make the transition smoothly into a very tough environment for a 14-year-old trying desperately to fit in among 2500 other kids. We are now continuing on with these kids and they are doing great. POPP loves Marietta High and they have become one of our Flagship Programs.