By Donna Thornton/News Editor
Rev. Preston Nix and other local ministers gathered at Mt. Calvary Baptist Church on Aug. 6 with local public officials, educators and citizens for what had been publicized as a Trayvon Martin Educational Awareness meeting.
However, those gathered did not spend the evening rehashing the details of the controversial court case. Instead they discussed the needs of the community’s young people, and what can be done within the community to help prevent tragic outcomes for local youth – whether it be a violent death, drug addiction, a prison sentence or unemployment.
In addition to Nix and Mt. Calvary pastor Rev. W.H. Granger, Etowah County Circuit Judges Billy Ogletree and Allen Millican were present, along with Jamie Sledge, who was appointed as a federal court judge in the Northern District of Alabama.
John Reed and Patrice Maxwell, a teacher with the Gadsden City School system’s alternative school and an NAACP representative, were present, along with concerned ministers and members of the community.
Nix said he had mentioned the Trayvon Martin case so that it could be used as a benchmark for a discussion of the needs of the young people and the community.
Many topics were discussed, including the way a lack of good parenting and a lack of respect can lead young people to difficulty in school and how those difficulties can lead to more serious trouble, even criminal activity.
Millican and Ogletree talked about the innovations in the Etowah County courts that allow judges options other than sending young people to prison for nonviolent offenses.
Drug court allows a judge to divert young people to drug rehab; community corrections and work release provide a place for people to serve a sentence while working in their community; and mental health court gives judges an option for helping those who face mental health issues to find treatment.
“We try everything,” Millican said. “It’s not like, step one and you’re gone (to prison).”
“We look everywhere we can to find positive programs to send these children,” Ogletree said, of Etowah’s juveniles who come before the court.
Nix asked the judges to provide him with information about the various court programs that may work to better rehabilitate young offenders than prison, so that he could get that information to people in the community.
Nix also urged those present to take what they learned in the meeting out into the community, as well. He asked that his meeting be a starting point, for informing people so that they can continue to work toward improving opportunities for the young people of Etowah County.