I’ve heard that one of the hardest things to do in life is to bury your own child. I can’t imagine, but don’t think I’m too far off in thinking that it would be especially hard when a young son or daughter has lost their life to other young sons and daughters.
Five years ago today, Camden High School student Michael Smith lost his life at the McDonald’s near U.S. 521/I-20; unconfirmed reasons suddenly made Smith a target of gang-violence. The culmination of what are now known to be gang-related incidents and the unfortunate death of Smith has pushed this county to find a way to create more programs and create more relationships with young people in Kershaw County.
In light of Michael Smith’s death, and the lost lives of those who were charged with his murder through incarceration and tainted permanent records, I hope that people might take the time to remember the young man and rejoice in his life. From what I gathered, it seems that he had goals, many friends and cared for his family. It also seems that he lost his life in order that others might have a better one.
He started a conversation; his death brought awareness and awareness helped foster a commitment to change.
Community groups, Kershaw County natives and those who have chosen the area as their home have come together to apply for, implement and sustain Safe Schools/Healthy Students, a $6 million dollar grant that has not only helped children, but has provided approximately 40 full-time and part-time positions to people who live in the area. There are mentoring and mental health services, positive behavior reinforcements, and there are even services that help educate whole families, not just students -- all of which need to be sustained in any way possible. Other community members that I talked to are committed to researching, designing and implementing programs of their own to make sure that people don’t get too comfortable.
The effectiveness of the CPD to find and charge anyone affiliated with Smith’s death, I think, was an effective way of presenting the consequences of being gang-affiliated. SS/HS is an infrastructure that has had a tremendous affect on the lives of Kershaw County children: it has given them an opportunity to get job skills training, it has held them accountable, it has given them points of reference and guidance throughout the county. But, as many have said, SS/HS isn’t “a gang grant” it is a “proactive” preventative program that hopes to keep Kershaw County from getting to a point where they can only react with law enforcement.
But what about responding versus reacting?
Gangs of all kinds exist all over the world -- Crips, Bloods, KKK, nationalist groups, religious extremists -- and all are still susceptible to their influence directly and indirectly. Someone of those can be found right here in the county despite the fact that they are laying low.
SS/HS is preventing students from the negative influence of gangs, but what we do about the gangs that already exist is a question some seem to have. I’m not sure that there is a way, a best practice or a one-solution-fits-all program that will allow people to infiltrate a gang and get them to talk about the choices they’ve made to get them to the point they are now. But, I think Kershaw County will find a way to offer a hand to those who see the need to step away from any gang affiliations.
One of my favorite Bible verses, Gal. 6:9, says “Do not grow weary in doing good, for in due season, you shall reap if you do not give up.”
As an outsider looking in, in a seemingly peculiar way, I am asked to simply watch, gather and present. I see that Kershaw County is small and may not have the resources to implement everything people in the county have a vision for. I’ve gathered that there are many people who are committed to seeing this area flourish despite bumps in the road; and through several stories the C-I has published this week, I can only hope that I have presented something relative to the truth: a collaborative effort is something most people in this county strive for and will continue.