Special to South Florida Times

BELLE GLADE — Too many young people are dying at the hands of other young people, community leaders in the western areas of Palm Beach County say.

And they are working with the school district to find a way to stem the violence.

One recent initiative was the third annual Walk Against Violence Rally that took place at Glades Central High School in Belle Glade Friday on Aug. 19.

Community leaders, law enforcement agencies, school principals, students, parents and residents came out to support the effort.

The rally was organized by the Glades Ministerial Alliance and was supported by the School District of Palm Beach County.
“The message that we are trying to convey is to encourage all students to stay focused on their education and their future – also to remind them to say no to drugs, gangs, violence or any other negative things that can interfere with their school,” school district spokeswoman Natalia Arenas said. 

Event organizer the Rev. Willie Lawrence said there was a need to rally because of gang violence and the deaths of young people in the community.

“I got tired of spending Saturdays burying our kids.  It’s time for the community to end the senseless violence,” Lawrence said.

Last November, 19-year-old Carl Booth was convicted on first degree murder charges in the slaying of Pahokee High School football star Norman “Pooh” Griffith.

Griffith was 18 years old when he was gunned down outside a youth dance at the Boys & Girls Club in Belle Glade, allegedly the victim of gang violence.
Booth, who was 17 at the time, was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Ministerial Alliance spokesman Robert Rease said it will always be difficult to see mothers suffer from losing their children.

“It’s really hard. We expect to see the old die but not the young.  This is not God’s plan for them,” he said.  “God has a plan to bless them and prosper them.  God does not have a plan for youth to kill themselves.”

Rease has served as pastor of St. Johns First Missionary Baptist Church in Belle Glade for the past six years. He said he has officiated at three funerals for young people whose lives were ended by violence in recent years and he was moved when one of the mothers spoke at the rally.

“A mother spoke about her son being killed by another youth,” Rease said. “She still doesn’t understand why she had to lose her 15-year-old son.”

Rease said it’s important for youth to realize that anyone can make a positive change in their lives.

Pastor Jeffrey Singletary of the Exciting Central Tampa Baptist Church  was among the guest speakers. Rease noted that Singletary is originally from the Glades area and is a former gang member who decided he did not want to live that life.

“Pastor Singletary said at the rally that, when he was young, he made some bad decisions, hung around with the wrong crowd.  Many of them are in prison now,” Rease recalled Singletary saying.

Rease said he thinks the most important thing Singletary stressed at the rally was that young people should choose their friends carefully and surround themselves with positive people on the right track who want to do the right thing.

Former NFL star Fred Taylor also spoke at the rally, telling students they do not have to be tough or in gangs to be successful.

Taylor said that he was not like that growing up in Belle Glade and made it all the way to the National Football League.

The Walk Against Violence Rally is held yearly the first Friday before students return to school to encourage them to start the year off on a positive note.

“We are trying to get the kids to go back to school with a positive attitude,” Rease said. “We’re trying to prevent violence in the schools and in the community as well.”

A march in various cities in the Glades area is usually conducted in association with the rally which is held at Glades Central or Pahokee High Schools on alternate years.

Rease said he plans to continue with the rally until there is no need to bring attention to violence in the western communities.

“One young man being killed is one too many,” he said.  “We’re planning on doing this rally until we have no young people being killed at all.”