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Jackson Teen Center officially opens doors
JTC - Four Squares
Jackson Teen Center (JTC) Staffer John Possum Drakeford (second from left, in blue shirt) plays a round of Four Squares with JTC students during a celebration of the centers official opening Nov. 5 - photo by Martin L. Cahn

Stories like this normally open with a phrase about a dream -- its becoming real, the “culmination of” or, even, “something like a.” But, the official opening of the Jackson Teen Center (JTC) has more to do with the keeping of a promise.

Seven years ago in December, a Camden High School student, Michael Smith, died as the result of a gunshot wound in Kershaw County’s only gang-relating shooting. Michael’s death shocked Camden and Kershaw County, ultimately culminating in the Kershaw County School District (KCSD) receiving a multi-million dollar grant from the federal government’s Safe Schools/Healthy Students (SS/HS) initiative.

While the grant covered a variety of programs -- ranging from job training to mentoring -- it did not fund a “bricks and mortar” solution: a safe place for teens to go after school; a place where they could be free of the pressure to join a gang or engage in other risky activities.

Brian Mayes -- known as “Mr. BB” in the community -- is one of the men who made a promise to create such a place somehow, someday. That day came this summer when the Boys & Girls Club of the Midlands made Mayes the JTC’s director. That day came again Nov. 5 with the official ribbon cutting at what was once Jackson High School.

“We’ve had more than 200 kids come here,” Mayes said, reporting that JTC students’ KCSD report cards showed them making a “B” average.

The large group of JTC students, volunteers, parents and others in attendance greeted that news with applause, cheers and whistles.

KCSD SS/HS Project Director Kevin Rhodes talked about how the district became involved.

“We always heard that we needed a safe place for kids, but the grant wasn’t the right thing for that, but what it did was bring the right people together,” Rhodes said.

The Boys & Girls Club’s involvement brought resources; its name brought credibility, he said.

“When we got to the end of the grant, we needed a place,” Rhodes said, adding that the district, Jackson Alumni Association and The ALPHA Center became involved. “The community bought into this place. You (students) bought into this. That’s what makes this place special.”

Camden Mayor Tony Scully said he has been waiting almost a year to celebrate the JTC’s opening.

“Mr. B.B. -- that’s Brian Bernard Mayes,” Scully revealed, eliciting laughter from the audience and some playful ire from Mayes, “--put his stamp on this club.”

The mayor then revealed more of how Mayes became a part of the community.

“He was a rising gospel singer who got food poisoning while passing through Camden. During his recovery, he had a revelation and stayed. For all these years, he has worked in the community. Because of his character, he’s gotten students not just off the streets, but more than 100 students into college. His philosophy is to create successful adults.”

Scully also challenged JTC students to stay in school and continue taking advantage of what the center and Mayes have to offer

“Mr. BB sees future Ph.D.s and CEOs … he sees potential here. He sees future great parents raising great children,” Scully said.

KCSD Superintendent Dr. Frank Morgan celebrated the JTC students’ “B” average.

“I am so happy to see that,” Morgan declared. “This will open doors for you. I am so proud.”

Morgan told the story of a father and son who, driving down the road, see a mattress fall off a truck in front of them. The boy points to the mattress and tells his father someone must do something. The man stops the car and, getting out, tells his son, “We’re someone.”

“Years ago, Brian Mayes said we needed a place for the kids. Someone needs to do it. Well, all the ‘someones’ came together. I’m proud of the fact that we are opening this club in this historic building,” Morgan said, telling the students, “You are capable of great things.”

Boys & Girls Club of the Midlands President Carter Clark said the Jackson Teen Center came to be out of Mayes, Morgan and Rhodes’ diligence and vision, along with that of United Way of the Kershaw County President Donny Supplee. (The United Way, Mayes later noted, installed the center’s new blue and white signs.)

“Mr. Supplee and Dr. Morgan saw me five or six years ago and asked how we can make this happen,” Clark said. “Mayor Scully came to me before he was elected and asked how we could make this happen. He was persistent in coming to see me. Mr. Rhodes worked tirelessly … and I was fortunate enough to be introduced to Mr. BB. The team came together. I’m happy and honored to have the Boys & Girls Club welcomed to Kershaw County and to be in this historic building.”

Brooks Harper, co-chair for community outreach on the Boys & Girls Club’s board of directors, talked -- as he did at a JTC event in July -- about how the club changed his life after his father walked out on his family. He talked about a man named Dave Campbell, who he compared favorably to Mayes.

“He took me from shadow to light. I allowed him to influence me at a critical crossroads,” Harper said, likening the experience to crossing a bridge. “But every bridge needs pillars of support. A friend told me, ‘You don’t need a lot of resources; you need to be resourceful.’”

And, Harper said, where the ceremony was taking place outside wasn’t a parking lot but a “launching pad.”

At that point, Mayes directed everyone to the center’s front doors for the official ribbon cutting. Afterward, dozens of kids and community members moved through the building to an inner courtyard where Mayes cooked up and served hamburgers and hotdogs. Young children ran around, happily chasing each other. Older kids threw a football around and challenged a JTC staffer in a game of Four Squares.

They were in that safe place Mr. BB had promised seven years ago.