Just blocks from the scene of a drive-by shooting that left a teenager and two 21-year-old men seriously wounded Friday night, about 250 families gathered at the BREC-YMCA center in Scotlandville on Saturday afternoon to discuss ways to expose their children to more positive influences.
The event, called Unity Day, featured a kids’ karate workshop and a panel discussion with representatives from law enforcement, higher education and recreation organizations.
Over and over again, the panelists stressed the importance of extracurricular activities in propelling an at-risk youth away from a life of crime.
“Karate has been very, very positive for me,” said John Hill, 15. “It’s all about self-discipline — getting done what you need to get done in a certain time frame.”
Skills learned in extracurricular activities help students gain employment, said John Daniels, organizer of Unity Day.
East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff Sid Gautreaux said it is imperative for adults to try to urge as many young people as possible to get involved in “positive developmental programs,” such as after-school activities, sports and summer camps.
“I can show you a prison that’s full of people who didn’t have these opportunities,” Gautreaux said.
Former LSU football coach Jerry Stovall said he had coached many players who came from “backgrounds that handicapped them” and who told him that their years of playing football saved them from the violence and hopelessness of the streets.
Stovall said many players admitted to him years after the fact that they learned about self-discipline through facing consequences for their behavior on the playing field.
“You always have them come to you and say, ‘Coach, I remember that time you came down hard on me and wouldn’t let me play, benched me. Then, I didn’t like you. But now, I respect you and I’m trying to do the same by my own children,” Stovall said.
Aside from Gautreaux and Stovall, the panelists included Carolyn McKnight-Bray, superintendent of the parish parks commission; Bob Jacobs, president of the Capital Area YMCA; and Girard Melancon, vice chancellor of student affairs at Baton Rouge Community College.
The panelists agreed among themselves and urged other adults to try to volunteer their time helping children in their spheres of influence.
“Everybody’s doing their own parts,” said Ronald Smith, executive director of the YMCA where the event was held. “We need to come together on a common ground to achieve our goals.”
Smith said due to grant funding, his YMCA would not turn away anyone who could not afford to pay for programming.
Stovall said children stand to gain disciplinary and social skills from having a relationship with a coach.
He said he would have never been able to play football himself if it weren’t for his high school coach giving him a ride home every day after practice, hours after the last school buses left.
“We’ve got a lot of youngsters today who a ride home is the least of their problems,” Stovall said.
Breanna Ventress, 11, said learning karate during the past year has helped her in many aspects of her life.
“It’s very inspirational,” Ventress said. “It helps me with school and makes me much more confident.”
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