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

Video Protests Continue in Ferguson, Spread to Other US Cities

Missouri officials say deployment of more than 2,000 National Guard soldiers helps curb second night of rampant arson and looting in Midwestern town More

Video Ebola, Crackdown on Illegals Hit Business in Guangzhou

Chinese city has largest community of Africans in Asia More

Video Legendary Lebanese Actress, Singer Sabah Dies at 87

Music and film diva, affectionately called 'Sabbouha' by millions of her fans, performed at Carnegie Hall in New York, Royal Albert Hall in London, Olympia in Paris, Sydney Opera House in Sydney 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.
Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Changei
X
November 24, 2014 10:09 PM
Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Change

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Mali Attempts to Shut Down Ebola Transmission Chain

Senegal and Nigeria were able to stop small Ebola outbreaks by closely monitoring those who had contact with the sick person and quickly isolating anyone with symptoms. Mali is now scrambling to do the same. VOA’s Anne Look reports from Mali on what the country is doing to shut down the chain of transmission.
Video

Video Ukraine Marks Anniversary of Deadly 1930s Famine

During a commemoration for millions who died of starvation in Ukraine in the early 1930s, President Petro Poroshenko lashed out at Soviet-era totalitarianism for causing the deaths and accused today’s Russian-backed rebels in the east of using similar tactics. VOA’s Daniel Shearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests at a Crossroads

New public opinion polls in Hong Kong indicate declining support for pro-democracy demonstrations after weeks of street protests. VOA’s Bill Ide in Guangzhou and Pros Laput in Hong Kong spoke with protesters and observers about whether demonstrators have been too aggressive in pushing for change.
Video

Video US Immigration Relief Imminent for Mixed-Status Families

Tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants in the Washington, D.C., area may benefit from a controversial presidential order announced this week. It's not a path to citizenship, as some activists hoped. But it will allow more immigrants who arrived as children or who have citizen children, to avoid deportation and work legally. VOA's Victoria Macchi talks with one young man who benefited from an earlier presidential order, and whose parents may now benefit after years of living in fear.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid