News 12 Special Assignment: Keeping kids clear of gangs


News 12 at 11 o'clock / Friday, April 26, 2013

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW) -- Most every parent with a teenager knows what it feels like to watch the clock and wait for curfew. Even if you trust your child, there are a lot of teens you don't trust. There are also a lot of temptations and pressures, and a good kid can change their life in a second with one bad decision.

It can happen so quickly they might not even realize they are going down the wrong path with the wrong crowd until it's too late. That's why Keona Cooper, a freshman at A.R. Johnson, chooses her friends wisely.

"The people you hang out with now either make you or break you," she told us when we met her recently at the Boys and Girls Club of the CSRA. She wants to make sure her future stays in tact.

News 12's Israel Butler wants to help. He doesn't just spend time in a news studio. He logs a lot of hours in the music studio, too, and knows all too well the pressures teens face. Butler wrote some rap lyrics after we began investigating our area's gang problem. He hopes his words can be part of the solution.

Experts say gangs are now in every single school in our area, meaning every single child in our area could be at risk.

The music stopped for Reihn "Dre" Jennings almost four years ago. He's serving time in a South Carolina prison for drugs.

"Once he just gave in and was like there's no purpose in fighting this, I'd say four or five months later, he was gone," said Destiny Holloway.

Holloway felt powerless as she slowly figured out her brother was quickly getting sucked into gang life.

"You're not going to tell your family about it because you think, 'What if my family tries to get me out and they come after my family? Now what do I do?'"

From the beginning, Jennings hid it all. Then, came the ending.

"Bulletproof vest people everywhere, K9 dogs, a U-Haul with a bunch of people in the back cuffed, and we just see him sitting there, cuffed. And we're like, 'Oh my God.'"

Holloway felt powerless yet again.

Meredith: "You just drove up on this?"
Holloway: "Yes, because we were going to check on him."

Jennings' family checked on him often just about every day once they suspected a gang was after him to join.

"It could be anybody's kid. It could be my kid. It could be your kid. Anybody. All they have to do is catch them at the right time, and all it has to have is "teen" at the end of the age, and that's the right time."

But Holloway was wrong when she thought there might be help. She and her mother asked police officers, deputies and anyone who would listen for advice on how to pull Jennings out before he was in too deep.

She said no one said a word.

"But the minute they do something bad, all those people that you asked for help are right there, ready to cart them on off. Oh well. You should have raised them. We've heard that, too."

Holloway says she and her family did their best to keep him away from gang life and stayed involved in his life. She believes it takes more than a family to raise a child.

"Maybe a scared straight program. Maybe something in the community saying 'Hey, we care about you. We care about what happens to you, because if you succeed, we all succeed.'"

Jennings needs to succeed.

He has a 4-year-old son who's counting on him and a family terrified he'll follow in his father's footsteps.

"The only thing we can do is do what we did with the first one and stay on him and make sure they're doing this and make sure they're here and make sure they're there. That's all we could do. But it didn't work."

Maybe music will.

Butler used to rap with Jennings, but once they stopped making music, Jennings started hanging with the wrong crowd. Having something to do when he gets out of prison could point him in the right direction.

Jennings' story isn't unique. Unfortunately, it's the same story we keep hearing from the families of gang members, but they also mention a solution. They all say kids need something to do. They all say they need a positive environment.

They all mention the Boys and Girls Club.

When we went there, we didn't just interview the kids about why they are involved with the organization. Cooper told us she wanted to make new friends and better herself as a person.

We didn't just ask what they might be doing if they weren't here. Eighth grader Jordan Brown told us it keeps him out of trouble.

We took the time to give them something to do, to have fun with them and to make them a part of something positive.

We are putting the finishing touches on the music video right now, and we can't wait to share it with you. Look for it soon on wrdw.com. We hope it inspires you to also lend a hand and share your talents with our youth any way you can.


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