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York County fraternity takes aim at gangs, teen violence

There is no denying the crisis in Rock Hill, York County and elsewhere involving mainly young black males.

President Obama acknowledges it.

Rock Hill NAACP President Melvin Poole sees it and has called it "unacceptable" repeatedly.

Pastors such as the Rev. Alvin Murdock of Christ Deliverance Church preach about how it must end.

Jails are filled with young black males. Just Tuesday, in a York County courtroom, a 19-year-old got life in prison and a 20-year-old received 25 years for killing a 19-year-old black male over absolutely nothing. No robbery with a big score. No reason at all. The prosecutor, Willy Thompson, rightly called the shooting "ridiculous."

The week before, a 21-year-old black male defendant got 18 years for a robbery/beating/kidnapping of an elderly black man. Last month, police charged an 18-year-old with three shooting incidents after seeking him for weeks.

Not all the violent crime is committed by young black men, but too much, say the men who a generation ago were those young black teens.

"Enough is enough," said Cato Burgess, a banker and Winthrop graduate. "We are losing our future. They are losing their futures. The time to act is now."

At 1 p.m. Saturday at the main branch of the York County Library, Burgess and the area alumni group of Phi Beta Sigma fraternity are inviting boys ages 8 to 18 to come to the library to meet them. The meeting is for the fraternity's Sigma Beta club, dedicated to finding kids who are on the road to gangs and violence.

The group will talk about providing mentoring, tutoring, all kinds of role modeling, to show young males - predominantly black - that they must make better choices or potentially become a prison statistic or name on a headstone.

"I went to Winthrop. I have seen how gangs and violence have invaded Rock Hill and that has to end," said Burgess, director of the outreach program. "If not us to change things, who? We all can do it."

The 30-member group has teachers and other men who have succeeded in life, in the workforce and as family men who have decided to dedicate a part of their lives to helping young people.

Many of the members come from single-parent homes. Some grew up in poverty.

"That doesn't mean any young person, coming from that situation, can't be successful in life," said Andrew Walker, another of the group's leadership.

The Sigmas join other fraternities, the NAACP and other groups in Rock Hill that are not silently waiting for crimes to add up. There have been youth forums and community meetings in Rock Hill and in the western York County town of Sharon. An anti-gang group has started, and there was even a march last year.

None of these people need a PowerPoint presentation to know the leading cause of death in America for black male teenagers is homicide.

But the Sigmas are the latest to stop pointing fingers at anybody but the mirror in the search for solutions.

"This is personal," Walker said. "Of the kids I was in the first-grade with, 15 percent are in jail or dead. I had mentors. I had people help me. We all went to college. Who has to help these youngsters out there now? Us, me, that's who."

The group is hoping that parents come Saturday, too, to see what the group offers and have any questions answered. Any kid of any race with any problem can come.

"Our goal is to show all these young people, before they get into trouble, that they matter to the rest of society," Burgess said. "The violence, the jail sentences, that all comes from bad decisions, poor choices."

It is not the court system's job to save people who rob and shoot and kill once the bullets are fired and blood is spilled.

But men such as Cato Burgess and Andrew Walker, they say no more guns. No more dying and jail and tears.

"I have two young men right now I have mentored, one is at South Carolina State, the other is at North Carolina A & T," Burgess said. "This can work. If it doesn't, the kids lose. I read the paper. The kids go to jail, and another is dead. We all lose."