INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.-- For 25 years, Rev. Malachi Walker has packed the basement of the Greater Commission Church of God in the 3300 block of North Arsenal Avenue with teenagers and youngsters enrolled in his Young Men, Inc. summer camp.
Opening day this year came just one day after a published report found Indiana had the fifth worst homicide rate for African Americans in the United States.
Tuesday morning, Rev. Walker and his campers welcomed Mayor Joe Hogsett to the first day of camp.
“I pray that in this room today is a future mayor of the city of Indianapolis,” said Hogsett.
Walker traditionally opens his doors three days a week in the summer for some sixty young people and even though his budget is stretched, he never turns away a child in need of programming and mentoring when the weather turns warm.
“Because as someone used to say to me all the time,” recalled the mayor, “’In the summer, if kids got nothing to do, rarely will they do nothing,’ and we want to give them something to do that’s positive, constructive and forward thinking.”
Hogsett made his fourth opening-day appearance at the camp also marking the fourth summer season when he’s committed the city to finding jobs for young people through the Project Indy program.
“Over the first three summers of Project Indy’s existence, we have had opportunities offered to young people for summer employment; 6,500 young people have been positively impacted by Project Indy,” he said. “Even though it’s a program designed to put money in young people’s pockets, give them hard skills and soft skills, you know, frankly, its also an anti-crime program.”
Wednesday morning Hogsett will be joined by IMPD Chief Bryan Roach in unveiling the city’s Summer Violence Prevention Campaign at Wheeler-Dowe Boys & Girls Club.
This week the Violence Policy Center (VPC) published a report that found Indiana’s 2016 black homicide rate of 32 per 100,000 population ranked among the top five in the country.
Another study pegs the Indiana homicide rate for all Hoosiers at six per 100,000.
VPC found that Indiana has consistently finished in the top 10 for black homicide rates almost every year since 2007.
Ninety-three percent of Indiana’s 205 black homicide victims in 2016 died by gunfire.
So far this year, at least a dozen people under the age of 20 have died by gunshot wounds in Marion County.
Dajon Currin is a Young Men, Inc. counselor who is looking to turn around that trend.
“In eleven years I’ve learned here patience, focus, respect and, most importantly, watch out for the person next to you, don’t let a person fall, pick the next person up. You should be the one changing someone else’s life so why not be it?”
Currin found those challenges while attending Warren Central High School as he prepared himself to enroll in Ball State University and its web design curriculum this fall.
“Maybe you got some friends that want to go smoke some weed or something and, ‘Come on, you know I got all these things going for me,’ you got to cut off that friend, surround yourself with people that will help you be successful because that will ultimately get you to where you want to be.”
This summer Dajon said he gets to realize his dream of joining Walker’s leadership team during camp.
“Every time I sat at the table, I was, ‘I want to be a counselor, I want to be a commander, I want to be one of the older people that help the little kids that show them the way,’ and I’m here now and I’m glad to be here.”
Another program, TeenWorks, has announced it is holding its First Jobs fundraiser to help promote initial work experiences for young people.
The fundraiser at www.teenworks.org and via social media has a goal of raising $100,000 to activate an equal match from an anonymous donor.
TeenWorks’ six-week summer youth employment program will run from June 17-July 24.