Advocates say addressing youth crime starts with mentorship

News4's Caresse Jackman talks to officials about why teen mentorship sets them up for success.
Published: May. 18, 2022 at 7:11 PM CDT
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WSMV) - Marquis Anderson was born and raised in Nashville. He’s now a general manager of a Verizon Wireless store in Nashville and graduated with honors from Tennessee State University.

His life before that wasn’t easy, and he’s using his experience to help others along the way, especially teenagers facing hardships.

“I had tunnel vision then,” Anderson said.

If life throws obstacles your way, you could say the 26-year-old Anderson has experienced quite a few of them.

“Being in a single-parent household, it was literally my mom. I was considered the man of the house, so with me thinking or felling I was the man of the house, you’re going through that age or that time where you think no one could really tell you what to do. There’s not a man in the house to tell you what to do,” Anderson said.

He didn’t get into serious trouble, but he acted out sometimes at school.

He said his life changed when he met Marcus Meneese.

“It made it easier for me to, I guess, listen and follow in his footsteps, and soak up what he’s teaching,” Anderson said.

Meneese’s guidance helped him.

Anderson said when it comes to teenagers rebelling, sometimes it’s about not having people around who understand them.

“They’re not heard. They’re not listed to,” Anderson said.

“If you can give a young man hope, he’s going to make it,” Meneese said.

Meneese is the founder of Stronger Than My Father, an organization in Nashville that helps young people succeed in life by providing academic assistance, character development and spiritual enrichment during their early and teenage years.

“I think consistent mentorship. A lot of people use the word mentor, but what about consistent. How often are your young men going to see his mentor. You can’t see him just once a month,” Meneese said. “Consistency when a young man knows I have somebody that believes in me, and you give that young man hope.”

While certain crimes have gone up recently, youth crime nationwide is actually a fraction of what it was in the 1990s.

From 2006-2019, youth arrests for violent crimes have plummeted 50%, showing an overall trend of declining youth crime for 13 years.

“I think that’s something we need to keep reminding ourselves of. That it’s not as bad as it was, but it’s still a problem, and as long as it’s still a program, we really need to address it,” Dr. Deborah Burris-Kitchen said.

It’s why Burris-Kitchen, chair of the Criminal Justice Department at Tennessee State University, said we need to continue looking at solutions for addressing youth crime and issues impacting them. One why she said to do that is addressing how we, as a society, criminalize our youth.

“The way we identify crime, we identify lower class behavior as criminal, things that they have to do, maybe as survival, not really have to, but they choose to do for survival purposes, like petty theft and things like that, or just the macho attitude you have to have living in a low community to protect yourself,” Burris-Kitchen said. “We label that as criminal and we don’t label things that wealthier kids are doing as criminal and we don’t label things that wealthier kids are doing as criminal so we see the arrest rates as higher in lower income communities and we’re identifying their behavior as crime when  you know students may be doing just as much damage in wealthier schools through their bowling and making people feel inadequate and want to commit suicide, it’s just a different kind of harm that you’re causing somebody.”

She said mentorship is just one way of changing the direction in a young person’s life.

“We also have to make sure they have access to the basic resources to food, shelter,” Burris-Kitchen said.

Now Anderson is passing on the torch he learned from Meneese by mentoring to the next generation. He’ not helping a young man who walked into his store who he could tell was looking for guidance.

“I let him know, you know, I’m 26 years old. You’re 17. I’ve seen 10 more years of life than you. I can tell you the path you’re going down right now is the path that’s not looking so great,” Anderson said. “If you need a shoulder to lean on, if you need somebody to talk to, let me know. I’ll listen to you.”

Showing that one person truly can make a difference in a teenager’s life.

Anderson said that he’s now linked up with his biological father. After college, they met up and have a much stronger bond. He goes to see him about twice a month.

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