Anti-gang task force working for "A Better Tomorrow"
CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) -- You don't wind
up in Washington Alternative School, unless the Hamilton County school
district, or the court system, determines you have issues.
So instructor Richard Bennett gets
the answer he expects when he asks his students who, among them, knows a member
of a gang.
Every hand goes up.
"Actually, I would have thought
the white guy would have been here (get sent to the class) for the pill, and
you for the weed," he tells one 15-year-old.
"It just ain't true."
Bennett's ministry, A Better Tomorrow
Inc., is all about redefining truth for middle and high school students judged
'at-risk' for joining, or coming under the influence of gangs.
That puts him on the front lines of
Chattanooga's re-dedicated and officially announced "War on Gang Violence." But
that doesn't make him a point-of-contact for the task force that Mayor Ron
Littlefield has charged with researching the threat and developing solutions.
Bennett's lessons come straight out
of the book, of his own life.
"You know when you say you've
been there, done that," he asks. "You see, 'real' to me, means,
relevant to me now."
Bennett cops freely, to a history as
a gang member and leader. What should be relevant to all of us, he says, is
that gangs have stepped in where families have failed.
"What you want to do is love
them out of that situation," he says.
It's course in straight up tough
Tuesday, 'Eric' would offer the
class a testimony, gleaned from 28 years on the streets.
"A lot of people come, trying
to recruit you (to the gang), tell you the good stuff about it, we do this, we
do that," he says. "I've had two of my relatives killed by
gangbangers. My grandmother got murdered. I've had bullets graze my face
and one split my thumb."
For 'Big Mike' Turner, living 'the
life' is about learning to accept its consequences.
"Man up," he exhorts the
class. "You do what you do? Lay it down!"
He wanted the money, cars, clothes and
Reality hit, with a felony
conviction, and the birth of his now-almost-5-year-old son, Michale.
"He (Michale) sees everything I
do," Turner says.
"These days, I drive a cab. I
cater. Find five lawns, and I'd be out there mowing 'em. That's what I tell
them; ain't nothing wrong with hustlin', as long as it's legal hustlin'. You
don't hurt nobody."
Bennett knows money is at the root
of a lot of it.
"I can't supplement the income
they're getting (from selling drugs)," he says. "But I can show them
A Better Tomorrow calls it
The flip response would be to call
it Junior Achievement for juvenile delinquents.
It's much more; 100 hours of
training: spread over this entire year and leads on summer jobs, lessons in how
to develop business plans and raise or borrow the start-up capital.
It also is about finding faith in
yourself and others, when your gut tells you otherwise.
"You've gotta find something
outside that comfort zone that you have," Bennett tells his class. "This
is about change, and adapting to it. Because change is gonna come, whether
you're on board with it or not."
Bennett and Turner know of the
doubters; inside this class and out in the community. Experience is tough to
But Turner maintains that the
message is getting through; he sees it in their eyes.
"If they didn't want to change,
they wouldn't be here."
To learn more about A Better
Tomorrow, click here.