Friday, April 05, 2002

A hostile world

It'll take the city to raise our children

        Inside the West End YMCA, a couple dozen young children and teens put on a talent show Wednesday evening for two dozen adults and family members.

        It was a press conference and fund-raiser for the Three Square Music Foundation, a struggling after-school and summer youth program.

        There was interpretive dance, a rousing drum routine, and mime. Young and old lit candles and prayed for families who've lost loved ones to violence. Adults and youth talked about the need to aspire to excellence in a hostile world.

        Less than a block away, a young man stood sentry over a public-housing parking lot. He took orders from adults walking or driving by, then gave orders and something in his hands to a waiting child.

        Other children played nearby in the parking lot — there is no playground. A woman walked out of her home, glanced toward the man and looked quickly away.

        The scene drove home a key question: Who will raise Cincinnati's at-risk kids? Productive programs like Three Square? Or destructive influences in the drug economy?

        To Kimberly Southerland, it's not mere theoretical musing.

        Ms. Southerland is the main force behind Three Square, a 9-year-old, religion-based children's organization. Her group has seen ebbs and flows in funding. Last spring, it served 240 youth in eight city locations. By summer's end, county funding had dried up, and the group began charging families $20 a week.

        The number of kids attending dropped to 45.

        Wednesday's talent show was to seek donations to match funds promised by the Cincinnati Empowerment Zone to serve 500 children in nine neighborhoods. Without the funds, the group could fold.

Leisure honored

        Angela Leisure was sworn in as chairman of the group's board. She's the mother of the late Timothy Thomas, the man whose fatal shooting last April sparked the riots. Courtis Fuller, who ran unsuccessfully for mayor last year, was absent but sent greetings as vice chair.

        Ms. Leisure, who said her family is having difficulty with the approaching anniversary of her son's death, said she felt honored and encouraged by Three Square.

        “They say it takes a village to raise a child. Well, it's going to take a city to raise these children right,” Ms. Leisure said.

        She hopes for more financial support and role-model support from city leadership and residents.

        Three Square isn't alone in this. Other groups targeting youth are in crisis.

        Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Greater Cincinnati, for instance, says it has mentors for 750 children, but another 400 children are still waiting. Once they turn 14 years old, those kids get dropped from the list, says Sylvia Viering, a case manager.

        “We don't always have volunteers willing to deal with teen-agers' problems,” she says. “For every child we match, we probably get three referrals.”

Hey, morticians

        The Rev. Michael Langford, who directs a drug and alcohol rehab program, says adults have “let down our youth by our inability to reach out to them. There's some things we haven't done.”

        At Three Square, a man in the audience pledged to give $1,000. He then challenged “Cincinnati's fat cats” and the morticians “who are burying us every day” to match it.

        After the event, Ms. Southerland explained why so few parents turned out for the event.

        “We are their family,” she said.

        Adds volunteer Candace Tubbs: “This is all these children have. If we close and lose our funding, the streets will be raising our children.”

        Denise Smith Amos can be reached at 768-8395, or e-mail


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