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CTY SAFE24p JoJuan Armour, prevention supervisor at the Urban Minorities Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Outreach Program of Lucas County, congratulates Kyrha Benson, center, and Shanyah Owens, both 15.
JoJuan Armour, prevention supervisor at the Urban Minorities Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Outreach Program of Lucas County, congratulates Kyrha Benson, center, and Shanyah Owens, both 15.
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Published: Tuesday, 7/24/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

Program helps Toledo teens tackle violence

Group of 9 hired to create, spread message of peace

BY TAYLOR DUNGJEN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Davon Sephus has friends who don't like to leave home because they're afraid they will be shot again.

The 18-year-old senior at Rogers High School said he has relatives who have been jumped and attacked and family members who have homes that have been burglarized.

"I'm really just so fed up and tired of worrying about being a crime victim," Mr. Sephus said. "You can't go to some neighborhoods without worrying about being shot."

Mr. Sephus is one of nine Toledo teenagers hired to create and disseminate messages promoting nonviolence, particularly among the city's youth.

For eight weeks this summer, the teens, known as the Credible Messengers, are learning how to "interrupt" negativity with positive messages and actions, said JoJuan Armour, prevention supervisor at the Urban Minorities Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Outreach Program of Lucas County.

The teens, picked from a pool of about 350 applicants at the city's youth job fair, are paid $8 an hour for 20 hours of work every week. The wages, which will be paid out twice during the project, come from donations made by individuals and agencies, said John Edwards, executive director of the Urban Minorities program.

The project has, so far, raised about half of its $12,000 goal.

The Credible Messengers aspect of the project is a borrowed idea from Chicago's CeaseFire project, Mr. Edwards said.

Isaiah Middlebrooks, 17, announces a project aimed at addressing violence in neighborhoods. He spoke at One Government Center. Isaiah Middlebrooks, 17, announces a project aimed at addressing violence in neighborhoods. He spoke at One Government Center.
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Mr. Edwards said he was interested in the project because CeaseFire is based on a public health model.

Seeing an increase in violence in Toledo, Mr. Edwards contacted CeaseFire officials and, in April, was one of four people from across the country invited to learn about CeaseFire firsthand.

While he was in Chicago, Mr. Edwards spent time with the program's Violence Interrupters, ex-offenders who rush to fights and shooting scenes to try to stop retaliation.

One afternoon on Chicago's west side was "kind of hairy -- and ... [I] thought I was a pretty tough old bird," he said.

In Toledo, of the 109 people who have been shot since Jan. 1, at least 30 of the victims are 21 or younger.

"There's a lot more senseless shootings that occur," Mr. Edwards said. "They are often times carried out or perpetrated by individuals who are very, very young, and there are a lot of guns in hands of individuals who are often willing to pull the trigger and use those weapons. That creates an environment where people are very, very fearful."

Toledo's Credible Messengers have developed several slogans and messages that will be displayed across the city in stores and churches, on T-shirts and wristbands, and will appear across media. The teens will also go to various community events to share their message of nonviolence.

Isaiah Middlebrooks, 17, a Credible Messenger and a senior at Scott High School, has seen how violence can impact a family.

In 2006, his uncle Jermain Middlebrooks was shot and killed outside a bar in North Toledo. Two men -- Otha Randall and Eddie L. White -- were found guilty and were sentenced to five and 18 years in prison, respectively.

The young Middlebrooks said teens in the city have to worry about being in dangerous environments and dealing with gangs and drugs, but he's confident that the work of the Credible Messengers will help change some of that.

"It's a positive thing we're doing," he said.

Mr. Sephus, who said his life has already changed for the better because of the project, agreed.

"I've matured so much just in the five weeks we've been doing this," Mr. Sephus said. "It's the curriculum. If you can change the way a person thinks, you can change the way they speak, and the way they act."

Contact Taylor Dungjen at: tdungjen@theblade.com, 419-724-6054, or on Twitter @tdungjen_Blade.



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