GREENSBORO, N.C. — Communities across the Triad are faced with the same dilemma: how to stop the spread of violence.
One Greensboro man says the answer to that question has to start with kids.
He says there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. But he runs Voices of the Struggle, a mentoring program focused on reaching kids while they are young.
“I used to fight a lot,” said Quamar Shaw. “That’s the only way I could get through my problems, the only way I solved my problems was through fighting.”
“I was gangbanging,” Messiah Alston told us. “Then on top of that, I had to do what I had to do for my momma and my sisters because it’s tough. I just had to do a lot of things. But I always kept my grades up though.”
Messiah Alston and Quamar Shaw grew up in some of Greensboro’s toughest neighborhoods.
“I was such an angry person,” Quamar said. “My household was broken. My father wasn’t in my life. So, I was just like I don’t really care about how I’m living.”
They both got connected to Will Pettiford, who leads VOTS.
“At 19, I was nearly sentenced to 22 years in prison for gang behavior and criminal activity,” Pettiford said. “I was hit with 19 felonies.”
Pettiford went on to play football at North Carolina A & T State University. After graduation, he says he got his record expunged, but his employment prospects remained limited.
“And I will still never be able to get that job with the awesome benefits, that job that pays the $50, $60, $100,000. I won’t be able to get that because the decisions I decided to make one day when I was 19 years old,” he said.
He shares that struggle openly with the guys he mentors. Right now, there are 36.
He says he gives them a judgment-free zone.
There are three components.
A Guilford County teacher works with the guys on academics. A school resource officer teaches them self-defense. And Pettiford is in charge of empowerment. That includes self-love, conflict resolution and community service.
And the VOTS approach is getting results.
Quamar is now a senior at Greensboro College Middle College. This fighter-turned-scholar plans to study mechanical engineering in college.
Messiah is a freshman at Livingstone College in Salisbury. He’s studying criminal justice and wants to be a detective.
They both have friends who have gotten caught up. Some of their friends — we’ve covered their stories.
Pettiford says one way to reach young men and help keep them on the right path is to employ them. He says most of them are chasing money, but they’re chasing it the wrong way.