News / USA

Former Teacher Keeps at-Risk Kids on Right Track

When too many of his students ended up dead or in prison, Joe Marshall set out to give them a better future

Multimedia

Audio

Former Teacher Keeps at-Risk Kids on Right Track
Former Teacher Keeps at-Risk Kids on Right Track

Joe Marshall didn't start out as a mentor for troubled youth.

After earning his doctorate in psychology, he spent 25 years as a teacher and administrator in San Francisco. Marshall taught math in middle school and expected to see his best students make it to college.

"But I got a lot of horror stories and a lot of my former students ended up dead or in prison for selling drugs, being involved in gangs, girls ended up pregnant," he recalls. "So it didn't quite work out the way I had envisioned it. And I was really, really hurt. I got into this business to have young people succeed. I knew their potential, and they were not only not living up to their potential. They were not living."



The statistics do suggest young African-American men face a grim future. Many grow up in neighborhoods that are plagued by gangs, drugs, and violence. More than half of them don't finish high school. And by the time those drop-outs are in their mid-30s, six out of 10 have spent time in jail.

Those facts, and his own experience, prompted Marshall to leave the classroom to set up an internationally-recognized program that gives at risk young people a safe haven and the chance of a better future.

Deborah Estell, teacher and coordinator of the Omega Leadership Academy, conducts a class.
Deborah Estell, teacher and coordinator of the Omega Leadership Academy, conducts a class.

A 'prescription' for staying alive and free

Marshall co-founded the Omega Boys Club 23 years ago with the goal of keeping kids alive and free.

The club is located in a violence-free area of San Francisco and serves more than 400 young people every year. Twice a week, it offers after-school classes in math, literacy, family and life-skills and college preparation.

In many ways, the club serves as a substitute family by providing the teens with structure, support, and protection.

Marshall sees gangs and violence as a disease that needs to be addressed as a public health problem. He compares them to a virus that's infected a computer.

"Can't do anything but destroy. That's what these young people get. They get a street-mentality, a mind-set that sends them straight to six feet under or the penitentiary," he says. "The big part is dealing with the emotional residue of anger, fear, and pain that they develop because they got invested in this in the first place. Then we tell them to follow some new rules for living that will decrease their chances of ending up dead or in prison and increase their chances dramatically of staying alive and free. We follow this prescription religiously, just as your doctor would give you a prescription. We know it works. It's up to them to take it."

'Stop the violence' and 'Don't do drugs' are the prescription he delivers to his young students every week at the Omega Boys Club.

Marshall and his Omega Boys Club/ Street Soldiers celebrate their 150th college graduate at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco, CA in October 2009.
Marshall and his Omega Boys Club/ Street Soldiers celebrate their 150th college graduate at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco, CA in October 2009.

Play music, save lives

Radio is the Omega Boys Club's most effective way of getting its anti-violence message out to thousands of young people. In 1991,  Marshall started "Street Soldiers," a weekly radio call-in show on KMEL, San Francisco's number one hip-hop station.

He talks of the day one of the club's graduates, Marlena, called in.

"She's at Southern University right now, going into her third year. She talked about what she had learned the hard way and how we helped her learn that by coming to Omega, by listening to "Street Soldiers," and she said she had learned how to love herself. I thought that was so powerful. Because it's a story you've heard many times - about being abused, molested, all that kind of stuff. And the folks who can help you are right on the other end of this phone line."

Marshall's Omega Boys Club was instrumental in helping Marlena and many other students attend college.

It provides counseling and financial assistance to help them stay in school. Since the Omega Boys Club started, almost all the young people who joined remain alive and out of prison. Over 90 percent of its members who were accepted into college have now graduated.

A national model

The Omega Boys Club has become a model program that has been replicated in twelve other U.S. cities.

Marshall is in-demand as an anti-violence expert and has been invited to address community groups in Nigeria, Canada, South Africa, and Thailand to spread his alive and free prescription.

Although he turned 63 this year, Joe Marshall has no thoughts of retiring any time soon.

"I want to build an institution," he explains. "I'm not going to be here forever, so my big thing is to make sure this goes on. So we put a lot of work into institutionalizing what we do as the headquarters of the alive-and-free movement. All this has worked to further my goal of keeping young people alive and free and helping communities in the Bay Area, around the country and around the world. So I'm not stopping. That's why retiring is hard for me to talk about."

Marshall says he's so busy these days that he can't remember the last time he took a vacation.  But there are still many more young people to save and he hopes they keep coming to him.

You May Like

Photogallery Kyiv: Russian Forces Tightening Grip on East

And new United Nations report documents human rights abuses committed by both sides in conflict More

Locust Swarms Fill Antananarivo Skies

FAO-led control efforts halted plague More

South Africa’s Plan to Move Rhinos May Not Stop Poaching

Experts say international coordination needed to follow the money trail and bring down rhino horn kingpins More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ebola Vaccine Trials To Begin Next Weeki
X
August 29, 2014 2:18 AM
The National Institutes of Health says it is launching early stage trials of a vaccine to prevent the Ebola virus, which has infected or killed thousands of people across West Africa. The World Health Organization says Ebola could infect more than 20,000 people across the region by the time the outbreak is over. The epidemic has health experts and governments scrambling to prevent more people from becoming infected. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials To Begin Next Week

The National Institutes of Health says it is launching early stage trials of a vaccine to prevent the Ebola virus, which has infected or killed thousands of people across West Africa. The World Health Organization says Ebola could infect more than 20,000 people across the region by the time the outbreak is over. The epidemic has health experts and governments scrambling to prevent more people from becoming infected. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Asian Bacteria Threatens Florida Orange Trees

Florida's citrus fruit industry is facing a serious threat from a bacteria carried by the Asian insect called psyllid. The widespread infestation again highlights the danger of transferring non-native species to American soil. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Aging Will Reduce Economic Growth Worldwide in Coming Decades

The world is getting older, fast. And as more people retire each year, fewer working-age people will be there to replace them. Bond rating agency Moody’s says that will lead to a decline in household savings; reducing global investments - which in turn, will lead to slower economic growth around the world. But experts say it’s not too late to mitigate the economic impact of the world’s aging populations. Mil Arcega has more.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Pachyderms Play Polo to Raise Money for Elephants

Polo, the ancient team competition typically played on horseback, is known as the “sport of kings.” However, the royal version for one annual event in Thailand swaps the horse for the kingdom’s national symbol - the elephant. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Samut Prakan reports that the King’s Cup Elephant Polo tournament is all for a good cause.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video America's Most Popular Artworks Displayed in Public Places

Public places in cities across America were turned into open-air art galleries in August. Pictures of the nation’s most popular artworks were displayed on billboards, bus shelters, subway platforms and more. The idea behind “Art Everywhere,” a collaborative campaign by five major museums is to allow more people to enjoy art and learn about the country’s culture and history. Faiza Elmasry has more.
Video

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video India’s Leprosy Battle Stymied by Continuing Stigma

Medical advancements in the treatment of leprosy have greatly diminished its impact around the world, largely eliminating the disease from most countries. India made great strides in combating leprosy, but still accounts for a majority of the world’s new cases each year, and the number of newly infected Indians is rising - more than 130,000 recorded last year. Doctors there say the problem has more to do with society than science. Shaikh Azizur Rahman reports from Kolkata.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid