Councilor Jay Roberson Kicks off 100 Days off Nonviolence partnership with A.G. Gaston Boys and Girls Club
By Cody Owens
Councilor Jay Roberson leaned back in his chair as teenagers at the A.G. Gaston Boys and Girls Club told him things they’d like to see happen in order to improve their community.
“I want us to have a water park,” one young girl said. “I go out to Texas and they have awesome water parks. We need something like that for young people to do when they’re out of school.” Suggestions ranged from skating rinks to teenage clubs to having a place for youth to come and “chill” but all the proposals circled the same concept: young people want something fun and safe to do with their friends.
Friday marked the start of the eighth annual 100 Days of Nonviolence, an initiative spearheaded by Councilor Roberson aimed at decreasing violence in the city by giving youth an opportunity for success and a place to feel safe.
“When I was young, we had the movie theatre out in Wildwood. That’s how we spent a lot of our time,” Roberson said as several heads nodded in agreement, adding they would like to have a place to see movies as well.
About 30 minutes earlier, Roberson had kicked off the 100 Days of Nonviolence addressing the students, community members and the media in one of the rooms at the A.G. Gaston Boys and Girls Club campus located at 2900 South Park Drive SW, known as the Kirkwood R. Balton Clubhouse. “We are going to create safe places for our youth,” Roberson said. “We need a place where young people can come to like the A.G. Gaston Boys and Girls Club. For fifty years it has been a community staple and place that has served as a beacon of safety for young people throughout the Greater Birmingham area.”
Originally founded in 1966, there are currently three A.G. Gaston clubhouses in the Birmingham area. They are all part of the nationwide Boys and Girls Club network made up of similar organizations whose goals are grounded in youth outreach and providing opportunities for young people to gain leadership skills. According to the A.G. Gaston Boys and Girls website, more than 1,800 children, ages six to 18, came through their doors in 2016.
Roberson characterized the clubhouse as a “center of hope” that shines a light on a path to success, by way of offering kids a place to create friendships, learn from mentors and give them access to tutors. Many of the mentors are teenagers themselves; Roberson is a byproduct of the A.G. Boys and Girls Club.
During the 100 Days of Nonviolence, students are encouraged to sign a pledge that states they will “refrain from all types of bullying… refrain from committing any acts of violence [and] increase [their] focus on education.” Roberson said over the years they’ve gotten 10,000 pledges from young people wanting to make positive impacts in their neighborhoods.
Jeremiah Graham, who is one of the program mentors, said when he was introduced to the program by his friend, “This place was full of energy and positivity. It was just full of life.” Before that experience, he had never had a mentor. “I felt safe at A.G. and it challenged me to reach my full potential. It provides a safe and positive place for the youth in this city to find their own path toward a brighter future.”
Mauri Robinson, the Kirkwood R. Balton Clubhouse director, said the partnership between A.G. Gaston Boys and Girls Club and Councilor Roberson, has helped start a conversation about youth violence in Birmingham and what can be done to help prevent it. “This period of time really allows us to focus on some of the ills we have here,” Robinson said. “What we do here, we do because of the youth…This partnership with the 100 Days of Nonviolence [initiative] is an opportunity for us to show teenagers this is a safe place to come. We’re ready to work. And we’re looking forward to having a positive impact on our community.”