DONALDSONVILLE — The Lemann Memorial Center was silent as former gang leader Arthur “Silky Slim” Reed talked about his experiences with gang violence and his work these days trying to prevent young people from going down the same path he followed.
Reed said he knows firsthand what violence and drugs can do to a community and joined several others to speak about crime and violence consequences and prevention July 24 at the Donaldsonville Teen Summit.
Reed shared stories of his time growing up in the Baton Rouge gang scene, where he is considered a founding member of the 4 Down and Southside Wrecking Crews. His talk served as a forum to discuss how media and music can corrupt the values of local youth.
“It’s impossible to put a watermelon seed in the ground and get a cantaloupe,” Reed said. “It’s impossible for you to put garbage in and not have trash come out. These kids have been deceived that they can listen to the garbage and the trash that’s being played on the radio and think they can live a fulfilling life.”
Reed is the founder of Stop the Killing Inc., a nonprofit organization devoted to helping end violence.
Organizers said recent shooting deaths and a rise in crime in the west bank area prompted the idea of the summit.
Kathe Hambrick-Jackson, who also curates the River Road African American Museum, headed the all-day event, which featured an array of speakers ranging from Mayor Leroy Sullivan to a local prison inmate.
“The overall goal was to have some dialogue with children and teenagers about the violence in our community,” Hambrick-Jackson said. “The recent murders and the use of illegal drugs has been a contributing factor to a lot of the violence, and that was the two main concerns.”
Parish Councilman Oliver Joseph, one of the organizers, said that while he’s not sure of the outcome of the event, he’s sure the graphic details of gang and violent life choices discussed by Reed “had them listening.”
“This was the first time we tried something like this,” Joseph said. “We’ve tried marches, revivals and a couple of things, but this was the first time we tried talking to young people about what it takes to make better choices.”
Hambrick-Jackson said the event took a little more than two months to plan after basing the idea off several similar summits in Baton Rouge and New Orleans, but found overwhelming support from the community, including one of the summit’s biggest sponsors and Joseph.
Joseph said the June shooting death of Adoriji Wilson, 37, prompted him to get involved. Wilson was shot and killed while visiting a friend on the friend’s porch in what the Ascension Parish sheriff said the appeared to be a “hit.”
Three men have been arrested in the shooting death.
“When an individual can sit on their own porch and someone can come in there and shoot you on your own property, it’s getting really bad in our community,” Joseph said. “We just have to make kids and people aware.”
Ascension Parish Sheriff Jeff Wiley also attended the summit and said while the event isn’t the end-all solution to the city’s crime problem, it is a step in the right direction.
Wiley said his department has taken aggressive measures to clean up crime around the area, but many issues have to be fought from within the community as well.
“The key to this is to bring about (a change) in the community,” Wiley said. “We’ve had some significant issues in this community over the past year, and I’m talking about crime, violent crime. … It takes a village as they say, and it takes all of us together.”
Reed, who spoke at the summit as part of his anti-violence tour across the country, summed up the problem as a “social disease” that’s disrupting the community and the power to resolve it lies primarily with parents.
“You can go to the child and give the child a new way to look at life, but the parent is caught up in ignorance right now, and until we take that ignorance away from the parents and tell them they’re raising these kids wrong, we’ll continue to see the type of violence we’re seeing right now.”
Joseph said the summit is only the first of two parts the group intends to host, with the second tentatively planned for Martin Luther King Day in February. Joseph said there’s no set idea for part two’s agenda, but added that the next summit hopefully will take aim at issues left out of its predecessor.