Most kids join gangs for one reason: money. Clint Bryant, who is involved with preventing gang activity in Augusta, said the best way to keep teens and young adults on the straight and narrow is to provide them with decent paying jobs.
On Jan. 19, Bryant spoke to a crowded room of sheriff’s deputies and people involved in local youth programs about gangs at the Newton County Detention Center. Bryant is athletics director at Augusta State University, a member of several NCAA boards and local non-profits and the founder of the Changing Attitudes, Refocusing Efforts, or CARE, program in Augusta.
The focus of the CARE program brings together organized labor groups, like unions, technical colleges and youth programs. It places kids into organized labor apprenticeship programs, such as the one offered by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, and also provides assistance with technical school studies, including test-taking and study habits, career counseling and job placement once the apprenticeship is finished.
Bryant said programs like CARE are one way to keep kids in a structured environment after high school and off the streets.
"These kids need a job and skills, something to give them pride. That’s the only way I see," Bryant said. "In our experience, if young people can make decent money, that will keep them out of jail."
He said he asks troubled youth what they want in life and they’ll say a nice car. What else? A wife and a family. How many kids? One or two. Where do you want to live? A nice neighborhood. How much money do you want to make? Around $60,000 or $70,000, and I want to be able to dress nice.
"What they just explained to you is the American Dream. There’s no one who doesn’t want that. But they’re twisted about how they get there," Bryant said. "A lot of their education comes from 24-hour TV, BET and the music channel. It’s just all fun, money and cars."
Bryant said kids of all ages need jobs beginning around the age of 13, and before that parents need to get back in the habit of enforcing chores. He said many companies’ liability insurance won’t cover kids younger than 18, and that’s a problem because those high-school graduates now don’t have any work experience.
"They’ve never had a job, and now all they can get is a minimum-wage job at Wal-Mart or McDonald’s. Other guys around them have fancy cars and money. A guy comes up to you and says run this package down to Augusta, and you’ll get a $1,000. That sounds pretty good to me, only making $300 a week. Soon I’m making four runs a month, that $4,000 a month. Over a year that’s $50,000," Bryant said. "It’s financial people. It’s financial."
However, some kids don’t realize the serious consequences of "riding dirty" and most of them aren’t prepared for life in prison.
"They don’t want to get raped, so they turn to a gang for a protection. They don’t have to be bad kids to do that," Bryant said.
Bryant said parents are also an important part of the equation. Assigning chores, helping with homework and spending family time around the dinner table are important for every family. Even kids who grow up in a $350,000 house with two stable, hard-working parents get into trouble.
"I knew one kid, he had a 3.7 G.P.A., scored 1300 on his SAT and had a full ride to Vanderbilt University. Three days before graduation, he and three other boys committed armed robbery … the dad looked in the room and on his son’s computer and found stuff. You need to monitor’s your kids computer usage," Bryant said.
He said parents and anybody involved with youth need to keep up with social networking, because that is how many gangs communicate. He said many young gang members are brash and will blatantly tell you what they did or what they’re going to do on the Web.
"The saddest thing is when good parents have their kid go to jail. They ask ‘What did I do wrong? I gave him everything he wanted.’ Maybe they gave him too much," he said.
Bryant said many of today’s kids feel entitled to things. When they go to high school they get a credit card with a $10,00 limit, and when they come out of college the expect to get a $100,000 a year job, he said.
"The kids are driving better cars than the teachers. We’re raising a bunch of lazy kids. It starts at the house. We want them to have a better life than we did, but we’re not making them work and do chores. Even in nicer homes, parents are working and providing, but not raising their kids," Bryant said. "Kids are looking for more discipline, not less. Gangs are among the most disciplined groups in society."
In order to prevent gang and criminal activity, parents and organizations in many different fields, education, law enforcement, judicial system and religion, have to partner on programs. They need to focus on at-risk kids, good kids and those who have already been incarcerated. They need to help kids pursue college prep, technical school and direct workforce futures. Most of all communities need to admit they have a problem, begin addressing it and be willing to give people a second chance.