| Birmingham -- This week finds Birmingham hosting the first national conference of the Street Soldiers National Consortium. The group, based in the San Francisco Bay area, is focused on finding ways to stop the violence plaguing inner cities.
The consortium is actually an outgrowth of the Omega Boys Club. Co-founder and President Dr. Joseph Marshall spent years in the public school system, watching students leave his sphere of influence to become trapped in a cycle of violence and incarceration. Marshall says he originally envisioned the Omega Boys Club as a place for at-risk teens to escape their every day lives. But, as more kids (boys and girls) began showing up, Marshall says he and his staff began to realize they had to do more than just offer a safe haven; they had to try to combat the culture of violence these kids existed in. They've since identified violence as a public health issue and are trying to find ways of treating what they consider the "disease of violence". They've even named it the Addiction to Incarceration and Death Syndrome.
Marshall says an important part of the "prescription" for fighting violence is to talk about it. He says, far too often, the realities of life in many of the nation's inner cities is overlooked. That the lives of those living there don't hold the same "value" as lives in other parts of the country. He also says kids growing up in violence have to be taught that each individual life is important, also that change and respect must come from within before they come from without.
The disease of violence, and how to treat it, is the subject of the Street Soliders National Consortium's conference. Marshall says the conference will kick off the "Alive and Free Movement", which he considers to be an outgrowth of the Civil Rights Movement. The conference runs the 9th and 10th.
-- Rosemary Pennington, November 8th, 2006