"Nobody when they're four- or five- years-old says, "I want to be a gang-banger,a drug dealer, a prostitute, or I want to hurt people."
Teresa Goines, the founder of Old Skool Cafe in San Francisco, is the person who said those wise words to me. She runs an incredible program for helping at risk youth. She points out that when young early childhood students express what they dream of becoming, they will talk about becoming a doctor, firefighter, policeman, or teacher.
Goines says every little child comes into the world with passion and dreams of living a full and productive life. However, she adds "because of situations that they're born into, they get really hurt and those dreams get dashed. Then, there's pain upon pain. The result is that hurting people will hurt people.” With that, Goines believes the trauma of a child's dream being shattered leads to the child acting out and making poor choices.
Goines explains that her story began after graduating from Westmont College. Armed with a degree in Psychology and an abundance of faith in God, Goines, at the age of 22, became a Corrections Officer at a juvenile boot camp in California. The teens under her supervision were convicted of every crime imaginable; drug dealing, gang violence, and worse.
Goines said her experience in corrections and background in psychology enabled her to realize that beyond the teen inmates' tough and menacing, some of them were actually tender, thoughtful and hungry for a chance to do better. Goines told me; "God really used them to break my heart for knowing that this is my calling and I have to do something about this,"
Not content to just sit idly by, watching more boys go to prison as a rite of passage, Teresa felt a special call upon her life to make a difference. Instead of working with youth after they were on lockdown, she aspired to help keep teens from getting into a vicious cycle of trouble that would lead to incarceration. So, Teresa embarked on an unusual quest to help deliver hope to teens that were hopeless.
She created Old Skool Cafe, a faith-based youth run supper club. She hires at risk youth or those who have been incarcerated to learn every aspect of the business. The teens are trained on how to become chefs, waiters, hosts, entertainers and managers. They even learn how to hire and fire employees. When they're not working, they are required to take classes on character development, conflict resolution and leadership. And they are required to finish high school.
It seems when we're not talking about war in foreign lands, we are often talking about the domestic war of teen violence.
We have a name for such troubled teens. We call them “at-risk youth.” It's a label we attach to them meaning they are less likely to succeed.
Statistics show they are destined for failure and poverty. Some people in America look at the youth in such neighborhoods and merely write them off as "lost causes."
I call that kind of thinking very shallow and feckless.
Instead, I see teen violence as an insidious evil that must be discussed and confronted.
Recent stories in the news about teen crime have focused on black on white attacks in Oklahoma, Florida and Washington State.
After each of those incidents, many news commentators angrily demanded that civil rights leaders Al Sharpton, Ben Jealous and Rev. Jesse Jackson show the same kind of outrage for these acts of violence as they had for the Travon Martin case.
Are we really becoming the kind of society wherein we base every response to senseless acts of violence on the race of the perpetrator and the victim?
Here's a wakeup call for all of us. It's not a black thing or a white thing, or a Hispanic/Latino thing. Crime is an evil thing. Pure and simple. It stems from the depravity of humanity.
I think Goines has a better view of the situation we find ourselves in and the way out:
"I totally believe in transformation, restoration and healing. I believe that when troubled teens begin to see themselves for who they truly are, for who God called them to be. They will see themselves as God sees them; valuable, precious and created for a great purpose. Then they start to act that way. When you call out the gold in them, they will become gold."
Goines like to refer to scripture when she talks about her outreach to troubled teens, “There’s a verse in the Bible that says that love is the greatest of all these things. There’s so many things you can do. There’s so many things you can do. There’s great gifts you can share, there’s acts of kindness. But, really, love is the most powerful weapon. And, when you love people, love changes people."