City's solution to gang threat includes concerts - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

City's solution to gang threat includes concerts, not just crackdowns

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CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) -- Given that Chattanooga has sub-titled its anti-gang efforts 'The Future is Ours', it's no surprise to find co-director Boyd Patterson shifting from prosecutor to concert promoter in the cafeteria at Brainerd High School Tuesday.

"We're calling it Be the Change because we want you to be the change," he tells a table full of students. "It's for the kids, and by the kids."

The 'Stars of Chattanooga', composed of teenaged performers working through the Parks & Recreation Department, will offer music at Miller Plaza downtown from noon to 3:00 P.M. Saturday.

"That's 123, 124 kids right there who say they want to be part of something," Patterson says. "Where they can work on their craft as long as they agree to stay positive."

He, and newly-hired coordinator Destiny Richardson, are hopeful that Brainerd students will do more than show up.

"We want them to be the change in the community," she says. "We will have some local partners that will be set up at the event, that will be offering some opportunities for them to volunteer."

Richardson has a Master's degree in education. She sees herself as a role model and a counselor.

"We want to show them that we care," she says. "That we're here to help and we want to put them on the right track."

Patterson calls her hiring a 'critical step' as the task force steps beyond its role of increasing suppression of gang-crimes and broadening Tennessee's RICO (racketeer-influenced corrupt organization) laws to define gang membership and the offenses that gang members commit as part and parcel of ongoing criminal conspiracies, yielding longer prison sentences.

Thursday, the Ochs Center for Metropolitan Studies and UT-Chattanooga will detail results of their comprehensive study the task force commissioned on Chattanooga's gang threat and gang violence.

"It goes way beyond confirming what we already know," Patterson says.

Brainerd students were among the 6,000 people surveyed regarding gang penetration. The results will enable the task force to target risks and pursue federal grant money to pay for prevention or intervention programs.

"Many of the problems begin with these kids not knowing how to read, or not being prepared to learn," Patterson says.

Former gang members and community leaders maintain that programs won't be effective unless at-risk teenagers have an opportunity to earn money, legally.

"The people who need to step up are stepping up in the order they need to," Patterson says.

"We're hearing from employers that so many applicants are showing up unprepared. Not dressed professionally. Not being polite. We have to stress to these kids that Job 1 for finding a job is knowing how to apply for it correctly."

The study's 'Jobs and Training' conclusions may require some rethinking, for employers and school administrators.

"Part of it is skill-set," Patterson says. "But what we're asking is for some employers to consider finding some type of work for a lot of folks who traditionally would not be employable, to give them a shot."

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