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

    Russian-Backed Offensive in Syria Pushes War to Tipping Point

    As threat to Aleppo and rebel forces grows, US plan to negotiate becomes less and less appealing for Syrian government, says one military analyst

    IS Runs Timber Smuggling Business in Afghanistan, Officials Say

    Government turning blind eye to smuggling, according to tribal leaders; Afghanistan's forest cover dropped by 50 percent in three decades, experts say

    Video White House Seeks $1.8 Billion to Combat Zika

    Obama administration says funding would 'support essential strategies to combat the virus' such as rapidly expanding mosquito control programs, accelerating vaccine research

    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.
    'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenyai
    X
    February 08, 2016 4:30 PM
    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video New Hampshire Voters Are Independent, Mindful of History

    Once every four years, the northeastern state of New Hampshire becomes the center of the U.S. political universe with its first-in-the-nation presidential primary. What's unusual about New Hampshire is how seriously the voters take their role and the responsibility of being among the first to weigh in on the candidates.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Bhutanese Refugees in New Hampshire Closely Watching Primary Election

    They fled their country and lived in refugee camps in neighboring Nepal for decades before being resettled in the northeastern U.S. state of New Hampshire -- now the focus of the U.S. presidential contest. VOA correspondent Aru Pande spoke with members of the Bhutanese community, including new American citizens, about the campaign and the strong anti-immigrant rhetoric of some of the candidates.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video Sanders, Clinton Battle for Young Democratic Vote

    Despite a narrow loss to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in last week's Iowa Democratic caucuses, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders secured more than 80 percent of the vote among those between the ages of 18 and 29. VOA correspondent Aru Pande talks to Democrats in New Hampshire about who they are leaning towards and why in this week's primary.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.