Several years ago I became a mentor and an advocate for at-risk kids. I remember asking this one particular kid why did he own a gun, and his response was “Because it makes me feel like a man.” And at that very moment when he said that I knew I had to work with this kid. After several months, the kid and I managed to get to the root of his issue, and we both realized that his gun was merely just a shield to hide behind because he was so ashamed that he wasn’t good in school, which led him to drop out. It took some time but eventually I had convinced him to get rid of his gun and re-enroll into the alternative school program.
I’m bringing this up because in Buffalo, New York, unsolved criminal cases involving guns and shootings are seemingly becoming an accepted and an expected reality within certain communities. And that troubles me and we have to do something about it.
There’s a particular stagnant case in here Buffalo that I’m concerned with so I called in a favor to get a closer look at some of the behind-the-scenes details. Personally, I wish that city, state, and federal officials could work more closely together and share their progress with one another instead of being sort of competitive because fighting over proper jurisdictions only slows and stagnates an investigation. And I must say though that it’s truly frustrating for both the innocent parties and the law enforcement officials involved with the case to have a primary and secondary suspect in mind but they can’t seem to get any witnesses within the community to come forward to identify the shooter in court.
This is why I have a strong devotion towards working with young people, especially those young people who are brainwashed and saturated with these manipulative beliefs that permeates within certain minority communities. It bothers me greatly whenever I see a T-shirt or hear a young person say “Don’t Snitch” or “Snitches get Stitches.” Ironically, some of the same scare tactics that the plantation owners used to keep slaves in line are the same manipulative scare tactics gang leaders use in our neighborhoods today.
Whether I’m giving a book talk in front of a classroom, or at a bookstore, or having a one-on-one, I absolutely love every opportunity I get to speak with a troubled and sometimes aimless youth. And I always point out to them that twisted phrases like “snitches get stitches” can only work on people who don’t think for themselves and people who tend to be followers. I also try to make the point that how can we tell and teach our little kids to make sure that they tell someone, a parent or another trusting adult, if someone is touching them inappropriately — and then, a few years later, these same kids are getting confused because they’re bombarded with “don’t snitch” and “snitches get stitches.”
In my little humble effort in trying to make a difference, I really try to drive home the crucial point to kids at risk that certain people involved with criminal activity and who may have a high status within a street gang can only survive if they continually recruit non-thinking followers to do their dirty work for them. And one of the best ways to combat this problem is to teach, inspire, and motivate these kids at risk to grab a book and try to learn how to gain more confidence and think for themselves, so that they don’t have to be a mindless follower anymore.
It saddens me whenever I learn of a kid dropping out of school because I know that the chances are high that he or she may trade their schoolbooks for a gun. And gang leaders just love it when their neighborhood has a high percentage of dropouts because it gives them a good supply of non-thinking followers. We must do whatever we can to keep our kids in school and not let them become easy prey out on the street.
I constantly meet concerned adults who tell me that they really want to do something to make their street, their block, or whole city better, and they often say something like “I want to help make my block safer but I’m just one person, I can’t make a difference.” And then I happily tell them that I used to think that same way quite some years ago, and then I became an absolute believer in the fact that one person can certainly make a difference. My beliefs changed when I’d handed a female gang member a book and she told me a couple years later how that book had changed her life.
So, even though these unsolved cases, such as the shooting case here in Buffalo, are frustrating, we can still try to make a difference in our own little humble way, you and I, one person at a time, one by one.
(PS: I want to sincerely thank all of you across America and around the world who have taken the time to write to me. I can’t even begin to tell you what that means to me and how grateful I am to you. Every day I get numerous messages and letters from you that truly humbles me.)
– Randy Camp
HARRY’S FIELD is an animated, children’s fantasy TV series. The series centers around a magical flying school bus named Eagle Wing, which transports kids from urban areas to an enchanted, colorful place called Harry’s Field, where they learn about nature and our environment from a variety of jovial, talking animals and plants. TIME OUT TIME IN is another very lively and engaging animated, children’s fantasy TV series created by Randolph Randy Camp. In a very entertaining and colorful manner (without being preachy), the series encourages young kids to use their imagination while simultaneously teaching them about life’s virtues, such as the importance of being polite and kind to others. All works registered with the Writers Guild of America, East.