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Youth 180's goal: "Stop these kids from killing each other"
Youth 180, a new organization in Seattle's Rainier Valley, is aimed at providing positive male role models and life lessons to boys who have had few. "It's our generation's responsibility to stop these kids from killing each other," says founder Gabriel Ladd.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Two boys burst into the Rainier Valley rambler and sprawl on a living-room couch or play computer poker in a bedroom-turned-office.
Dorian Porter, 15, and DaV'ontE Cheatham, 16, come here most afternoons to get off the South Seattle streets where friends and relatives — many around their age — have been killed or wounded in the past year in gun violence.
Porter, a friendly, clean-cut sophomore at Cleveland High School, said his cousin, DéChé Morrison, 14, was shot and killed a year ago. Quincy Coleman, 15, fatally shot outside Garfield High School on Halloween, used to play on his Little League football team.
Two of Cheatham's cousins were shot last year in Seattle, one fatally. His best friend, Daiquan Jones, 17, was killed in a shooting in November at Westfield Southcenter mall.
All of the shootings have been investigated by Seattle gang detectives.
Porter says he nearly joined a gang himself after hearing about gang life from his father, a former member of the Rolling 60s Crips.
"It sounded hecka cool," he said. "Runnin' from police, totin' a gun."
But a steady procession of funerals, and the intervention of some adults, is changing his mind.
The house where Porter and Cheatham hang out most afternoons is the latest project of Youth 180, a new organization aimed at providing positive male role models and life lessons to boys who have had few.
Youth 180, named for the degree of change organizers hope to achieve in the lives of Rainier Valley teenagers, was formed in April by Gabriel Ladd, 29, a former Cleveland High truancy officer who saw the escalating gang violence and the fatalism in many of the youth he worked with and wanted to do more.
"It's our generation's responsibility to stop these kids from killing each other. It's mandatory. They're the future," said Ladd, who also works as an aide in Seattle schools and as a barber in his father's Skyway shop, The Gary Ladd Salon.
With a $20,000 grant from Seattle's Department of Neighborhoods, Ladd last summer recruited a dozen at-risk teenage boys from the Rainier Valley and held classes for them at Aki Kurose Middle School. They talked about decision-making, the consequences of their actions and the importance of respecting themselves and others. They also took on community projects, including painting out graffiti and picking up litter.
Ladd recruited several of his own friends from the neighborhood, some former gang members themselves, to share their experiences with the teenage boys. His sister, Dinah Ladd, and his girlfriend, Kiaira Bell, formed a similar group for girls.
But at the end of the day, many of the teenagers went back to tenuous home lives and to friends who wore gang colors and freely roamed the streets. Ladd approached his parents about turning the house he had grown up in, and which his family was renting out, into a safe house for youth.
His long-range plan is to provide after-school training in carpentry, plumbing and electrical, as well as life-skills classes and recreation. The basement will house six beds and a computer room.
Paul Patu, who runs youth programs in the Rainier Valley for the relief-and-development organization World Vision, said Ladd is filling a need in these young people's lives for an alternative to the streets and for surrogate parents.
"What Gary is doing is desperately needed. Good youth work right now means keeping these kids alive until they mature out of it [the gang scene]," Patu said.
In September, Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels announced an $8 million initiative to reduce youth violence and gang membership. While violent crime in the city is at a 40-year low, the number of violent incidents involving juveniles has held steady for the past several years at about 800 per year, according to the mayor's office.
Nickels' plan calls for identifying 800 at-risk youth and working with community organizations to coordinate services, including mentoring and counseling. The plan will come before the City Council for approval next month.
While Ladd has raised private funds for some of the remodeling work, ongoing programs including job training are on hold until more money is secured. Staffing for the safe house and additional outreach efforts could come from the new city funds.
Patu said organizations such as Youth 180 and World Vision that are now working with at-risk youth are in the best position to provide services. "We have the connections and the relationships with kids on the street, but we don't have the resources," Patu said.
Gangs and guns
At the Youth 180 house in the Rainier Valley, Ladd said that the difference between the gangs of the late 1980s that he grew up around and those today is that juveniles who once settled disputes with their fists are now carrying guns.
"We keep telling them it's not a video game. It's not 'Grand Theft Auto' where you lose your life and come back," Ladd said.
Ladd often picks the boys up after school, or from their homes, and brings them to the safe house. House rules forbid any weapons or any friends who aren't part of the program.
Although there are no classes currently, Ladd and other men provide guidance and support to the dozen or so boys who regularly come.
"I know if I'm here I won't be in trouble," said Cheatham, who plays poker on a computer in the office when he's not nervously jumping up and checking out what else is going on around the house. Like Porter, his firsthand knowledge of the toll of street violence has made him wary.
"If it was just street fights, it would be over," Cheatham says. "But now the kids are toting guns. My family said to stay away, but I followed along. How they talk, walk, I picked that up."
Cheatham got involved in a gang and participated in a series of home-invasion robberies in the Holly Park neighborhood. He was caught, arrested and at 14 landed in juvenile detention. It scared him when he learned that he could have faced five years in jail for his crimes.
He says the men who run Youth 180 are the first adult males who have ever cared about what happens to him.
"I really had nobody tell me that," he says.
His 14-year-old girlfriend, Krystal Dumas, watches from a chair nearby. Before he runs out, Cheatham leans over Dumas' back and touches her stomach. "I want people to know she's pregnant," he says.
The girl smiles broadly. She says they plan to marry when Cheatham is 18. Both grew up without fathers. Both are living with Dumas' disabled grandmother. Both dropped out of school, but Dumas has re-enrolled and is trying to complete high school.
She said that when the baby comes in May, her mother, who is also disabled, will take care of the child and she'll try to get a job at a bakery. Cheatham wants to enter a job-training program in Portland and take the bus back to Seattle on weekends.
Cheatham runs back in the room, darts behind Dumas. "I don't like her, she's a pain," he says. And then, "I love her." He leans in and kisses her.
Ladd hears the exchange and sits them down. He tells them having a child isn't something to joke about.
"That is so serious. That's a life you're bringing into the world."
The teenagers turn back to the video poker game. Ladd looks toward the ceiling.
Later in the afternoon, Ladd goes to work at his father's barbershop. The elder Ladd, who has himself mentored many South End youth, stops by the safe house and gives Lahraj Garrett, 14, a ride home. As they drive down Rainier Avenue, Ladd notices the deserted streets.
"Where is everybody?" he asks.
"They don't want to be shot," Garrett says.
Lynn Thompson: 206-464-8305 or email@example.com
Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company
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