Members of clergy suggest vocational training as step to reducing crime
By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer
Vocational programs that help young people prepare for a career could be one of the most effective tools to help reduce the high crime rate in Tallahassee.
That was the consensus in a recent sampling of members of the city’s clergy. They also suggested that some of the town hall meetings such as one held three weeks ago could be more effective by staging them inside the communities that are affected by crime.
Rudy Ferguson, one of the three ministers who were asked for their recommendation on how to begin reducing crime, said there needs to be more proactive measures.
“We’ve come past the point of talking about it,” said Ferguson, pastor of New Birth Tabernacle of Praise. “It is now time to start doing something applicable about it.”
The three members of the clergy surveyed agreed that inequities such as poor housing, the lack of jobs and welfare programs that don’t provide long-term solutions are at the core of the problem. Many of the programs like those offered in community centers as a deterrent from the streets aren’t the answer any more, said Lee Jonson, pastor at Trinity United Presbyterian Church.
Teaching young people how to be electricians, plumbers and engineers would better serve them, he said. The current programs have become a sort of baby-sitting service, he said.
“Our kids don’t need to be put into a setting like a time out where they could play games until their mama gets off from work,” Johnson said.
Johnson and Ferguson attended the town hall meeting called three weeks ago by mayor Andrew Gillum, but said they didn’t leave with any new answers for reducing the city’s crime rate. Tallahassee has the highest crime rate in the state, according to a recent Florida Department of Law Enforcement report.
Some of the suggestions to the crime race mentioned at the town hall meeting included funding for existing programs and drug treatment. Poverty and children being unsupervised while their single parents are at work also were mentioned as two of the primary reasons young people turn to the streets.
“That has nothing to do with it,” Johnson said. “I know people who come from households with mama and daddy and they still go into a life of crime and delinquency.
“It is basically those kids (without a career path) looking at their lives and things don’t look fair and right to them. When kids see inequities, they don’t know how to deal with it and they dislike the system.”
Ferguson has already taken steps to help the disenfranchised, opening the Dream Center. The center, which is open each day from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., offers a math lab, a program for parents, arts program in music and writing. Plans also are in the works to begin offering ballet dancing.
He calls it a tangible concept that could one day include truck-driving and welding courses.
“Once we start putting things together and start showing it,” Ferguson said, “from the mayor’s office, from the governor’s office, the next door neighbor, the churches, all the businesses in our community, I could almost say for certain you will begin to see people matriculating in a civil life because they will now have hope.”
Frank Gantt, a 47-year-old ex-felon, said he found his hope in the military. He served 24 years in the Army, a choice he said he made because of being bullied as a child.
He might have chosen a vocational program instead of the military if he had that choice, he said. Instead he earned a degree in criminal justice, but because of run-ins with the law he is now unable to have a career in law enforcement.
Gantt said he suffered from Post Dramatic Stress Discover, which led to drinking and an eventual string of DUI charges. He is currently enrolled in Ready 4-Work, a reentry program for ex-felons.
He endorses the idea of using vocational training to curb crime, while expressing appreciation for the Ready 4-Work program that gives him a second chance. He had tried several other agencies for help without success, he said.
“Nobody was giving a helping hand,” he said. “Some people like to watch you fall.”
County commissioner Bill Proctor, who is known for his work in the ministry, said he had long been an advocate for vocational training. It’s one of the surest ways to reduce unemployment – especially among poor people – he said.
“That is still a major component that has not been addressed,” he said. “Until we get jobs and opportunity options for young people, I believe we are going to continue to have a crime problem.”
Proctor suggested that vocational programs be set up at Rickards High School along with Nims and Fairview middle schools.
“We have to prep and prepare them for their lives,” Proctor said.