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

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants 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.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs