No. 617



If you have ever driven in a large city for the first time and made a wrong turn into what appeared to be a real rough neighborhood, what were your first thoughts? Were you scared, at least to some degree? While there are many exceptions, this is true for most people because of the fear of gangs or those who would rob or harm them in some way. This is a sad reality in today’s times, and more and more it’s not just the large cities, but even medium-size and smaller communities in some cases. Today it is estimated that more than 5,000 gangs prowl the streets of America, and murder is the second leading cause of death for youth 14 to 17 years of age. A bullet cuts down an American child every 92 minutes and one of three children in America will be the victim of a drive-by shooting.
Over the past few months I have gotten to know a fantastic human being by the name of Steve Nawojczyk (Nuh VOY check), who is working hard to change this. In 1987, Steve was elected coroner of Pulaski County, where Little Rock, our state capital, is located. He retired from this position in 1994 because of the death of a young person that so emotionally impacted him he could no longer continue. During the mid-1990s, a gang war took place in Little Rock, and one year there were 110 deaths, mostly at the hands of rival gang members. This particular year there were more gang-related deaths, per capita, in Little Rock than in the cities of Los Angeles and New York City.
After his retirement, Steve embarked on a mission to study gang activity, why a young person would join a gang and what could be done to prevent it. Because of his background and earlier experience, who better to understand the devastating problems of gangs than a former coroner? In a short period of time, Steve became a national authority on gangs and has made presentations in more than 40 different states. He was the subject of an HBO documentary titled “Gang War: Bangin’ in Little Rock,” a part of the America Undercover series that cast him into the national spotlight and made more people aware of his unique qualifications. As a result, more and more states, communities and agencies wanted to hear his ideas because he is a great resource person.
During these years Steve has produced a number of DVDs that graphically tell the story of gangs and their activities. After I viewed four different DVDs, I came to the conclusion that this man has tremendous courage. He has the ability to win the confidence of gang members who would allow him to come “inside” and who would tell him their story and why they joined a gang. Steve would literally go places and talk with these wayward young people, at times and places where angels would fear to tread. It was heart wrenching to hear what these young people had to say about their lives as a gang member.
A couple of things stood out for me. First, mainly because of their family situation, gang members have no hope that life will ever be any better for them. In most cases, gang members said they did not feel love from their parents or those who should have been there to help them. The gang literally has become their family, and it’s a life-long proposition, which is the main reason it’s so difficult for a young person to leave a gang. For more, visit his Web site at Steve would later become a special assistant to the mayor of North Little Rock to head up their Youth Services Division. I got to know him after writing a letter to the mayor to tell him about our “Bookcase for Every Child” project that we started in 2005 here in Conway.
We were invited to make a presentation at City Hall several months ago, and Steve chaired the meeting. Also attending were several department heads. This city of 60,000 people, sister city of our state’s capital, has a gang problem, and Steve and his fellow department heads immediately recognized the value of what we were doing with children 3, 4 and 5 years of age in low-income families. They immediately got on board and are now making plans to have a great “Bookcase for Every Child” project in the city of North Little Rock. We will still use our guiding principles of using all volunteers and no tax money or government grants.
This is a great approach, because this city with 900 employees will supply some of the resources to get the project organized while still looking to involve community leaders and volunteers from throughout the community. Illiteracy is everyone’s problem and it takes all of us working together to have a more literate population. Steve says, “While working with these 3-, 4- and 5-year-old children, we will be sowing seeds of hope for future generations.”
(EDITOR'S NOTE: Jim Davidson is a public speaker and syndicated columnist. You may contact him at 2 Bentley Drive, Conway, AR 72034. To support literacy, buy his book: “Learning, Earning & Giving Back.”)