Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Saving Our Future Generations

Deontea Mackey was a normal teenager, born and raised in Greenville county.  As a middle-schooler, he was an active leader in the Nicholtown Spinners biking club. Featured on local news and brought to meet with Mayor Knox White, Deontea was singled out as a promising young man, full of potential. The teen aimed to attend Clemson University, and he was on a path to accomplish great things with his life.

But then he joined a gang.

But then he got a gun.

But then, at age seventeen, he shot Greenville police Officer Jacobs.

But then he killed himself.

Every week, I volunteer at an elementary school, blocks from where Deontea grew up; blocks away from his felony and his suicide.

I walk into the fourth grade classroom, full of lively, hilarious, talented young kids. They bounce around, showering me with their enthusiastic hugs and bubbling, fast-paced stories. I love my crazy fourth grade kids. They are so smart and so sweet, and full of dreams for what their lives might be. As I look around their classes, it hits me--one of these could be the next Deontea Mackey.

While graduation rates have improved over the past five years, nearly 20% of Greenville county high school students still do not graduate from twelfth grade. This is a symptom of the fact that teenagers in Greenville county are slipping through the cracks. While some teens are on a track to success, there are others that have no career plan, no hope for their future, no dreams of building a stable life. Without hope, these kids may fall victim to addiction, gangs and hopelessness. These are problems that left unchecked, can undermine the stability of a city/community. How can our community identify these teenagers and provide opportunity for them to change the direction of their lives?

A fundamental tool any person needs for success is support--someone who believes in them, will help them make positive choices and that they can turn to for advice. Deontea Mackey should have been thinking about prom tickets, GPA’s, or college applications, not guns and murder. Instead, he found his support and advice in a gang.

There is no perfect, blanket solution to a problem so broad, involving so many different individual situations. However, one definite answer is people. People who take time to engage with teenagers, view them as more than a nuisance, and help them discover their capability--people who are willing to pour into messy, confused teens. Community leaders need to set an example for others by taking time to mentor at-risk teenagers or teens who feel directionless. The only key to this problem is people setting aside time to care about the future leaders of our world.

This was written in response to the prompt "What, in your opinion, is the greatest problem facing teenagers in Greenville county, and what solutions do you suggest?"

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