Serious offenses by juveniles are down nearly 10 percent this year in Shelby County. Some numbers are even more encouraging. This year, FOUR minors have been charged with murder; 15 years ago the number was 50. How do we explain this? Why do you think we’re experiencing such a dramatic decline in youth violence? Obviously, a lot of good people have been working to address this issue for years. Give us an example of a person or group or program you know about that deserves some credit. Where do you see people showing their faith in Memphis by addressing youth violence?
The reported decrease in youth violence is both encouraging and baffling. There are no obvious social, economic, or cultural explanations for such a significant and sustained trend. We haven’t seen a reduction in high school dropout rates or a meaningful change in our embarrassing poverty statistics.
I am aware of a large and sustained effort to reduce youth violence that may deserve some of the credit, The Urban Youth Initiative (UYI). The UYI was the brain child of The Memphis Leadership Foundation’s (MLF) founder, Dr. Larry Lloyd, and has continued under the able leadership of MLF’s president, Howard Eddings.
UYI’s strategy is straightforward: train and deploy an army of youth workers throughout our city’s under-resourced neighborhoods, schools, and churches. Over the last dozen years, scores of UYI interns have reached out to thousands and thousands of our at-risk youth. UYI workers teach, coach, tutor, and otherwise encourage kids to make wise decisions. It’s another of MLF’s quiet success stories.