Eight teenagers were arrested at Abington High School on Thursday after a fight broke out. Police charged them with riot and simple assault.
The eight were part of two groups—the Young Rushers and Young Sliders– who have been feuding for some time now and have become involved in more serious violence since Keivon Abraham, 16, was shot and killed in Philadelphia in May, said Abington Police Lt. Kevin Magee. He called the factions “quasi-gangs.”
“The sad part is they all used to be friends,” said Magee.
The Abington Police have been working with state Sen. Art Haywood (D-Abington), school and township officials, and the Rev. Marshall Mitchell, pastor of the Salem Baptist Church, to set up a team of mentors to help this troubled group of about 30 young Black teenagers. Magee said that if the mentorship pilot program succeeds, the hope is to expand it to the middle school and Cheltenham Township schools.
“Unfortunately, some of these kids have been fighting nonstop,” Magee added. And it’s not just fighting. There have also been instances of Molotov cocktails thrown, he said.
Mitchell said the idea was born of a phone call with Abington Police Chief Patrick Malloy, who he calls a good friend.
“We’ve got to do things right now to change the trajectory,” said Mitchell. He knew he had parishioners with skills to help, including three African-American psychiatrists and two people with doctorates in psychology.
The program, which is just getting underway, has hired Uplift Solutions, which works with the courts in Philadelphia, to help get youngsters back on the right path.
“We want to be very targeted and strategic and see if we can make a difference,” said Mitchell.
Tyrone Manning, constituent services manager for Haywood, is working on the mentorship project. It recruits and identifies mentors, who are then vetted and undergo training. There is also a matching process. For example, if a teen is interested in business, they are matched with someone in the business world.
“We’re making sure we have the right mentor with the right child,” he said. And there will be two or three mentors per child.
According to Manning, some teens are dealing with grief and need mental health counseling. Others are abusing illegal drugs and alcohol.
Manning said they’ve reached out to parents, some of whom welcome the initiative, while others do not want to get involved.
Asked about the issue of absentee fathers, Mitchell said there were other issues as well.
“Why aren’t there more fathers in our homes? There’s a hopelessness in African Americans today,” he said, and when people are hopeless, they run.
As for problems with youth, he believes social media is the number one issue, with fatherlessness as second. He said COVID and school closures played a role in elevating social media in kids’ lives.
“Social media is driving a ton of bad behavior, exacerbated by COVID,” said Mitchell. But other “pathologies are centuries in the making.”
“There is a lack of Black role models,” he said. He believes this new mentorship program will change that. They are starting with a group of young Black males who have been getting into trouble and then expanding the program to more kids.
“This is fighting a battle so we can begin to fight the war,” said Mitchell. “In the age of COVID, it’s a different way for a church to function in the world.”
Mitchell said the program does not have a website yet, but people can call the church if they’re interested in volunteering: (215) 884-7664
“We’ll take prayers now and money later,” he said.
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