Atlanta Police, Foundation backing new youth “diversion” center

Credit: Hyosub Shin

Credit: Hyosub Shin

A new youth center is coming to the English Avenue/Vine City area to help young people like Jarvis Davis stay out of trouble.

By age 17, Davis had served more than three years in juvenile detention for armed robbery and aggravated assault. He was a gang member and spent his middle school years hanging out on street corners instead of going to class.

But on Wednesday, Davis, now 21, helped city leaders, including Mayor Kasim Reed and Atlanta City Councilman Ivory Young, break ground on the At-Promise Youth Center, a 17,000-square-foot youth center on Cameron Alexander Boulevard.

“I tell everybody when I go out of town, ‘Atlanta is the second chance city,’” said Jarvis, who now works as a mentor for the Atlanta Police Department.

The youth center is the latest effort being made to clean up and revive one of Atlanta's poorest and most crime-ridden corridors. In October, Westside Works, a job placement and career education organization founded by the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, opened a community center on Joseph E. Lowery Boulevard.

Two weeks later, five Atlanta Police officers were shown new homes they would be moving into in the community as part of an attempt to integrate law enforcement as neighbors.

“This is long overdue,” said Young, who represents the area and has lived in the community for 25 years. “It’s real folks. There’s change that’s happening.”

The facility, a former head start center, will need to undergro extensive renovation before tentatively opening next summer, officials said. The focus will be on diverting young people from crime through mentorship programs with APD officers, music and athletic programs, life skills classes and workforce development. About 150 teens aged 12 to 17, who can have no more than a misdemeanor on their record, are expected to be served during the first year.

Retiring Atlanta Police Chief George Turner said the youth center is critical to getting to kids before the trouble they get into escalates. For example, he said a 15-year-old and 16-year-old that APD have been dealing with for four years were recently arrested and charged with murder. One of the children had been arrested more than 40 times.

“What that says is we had an opportunity to make a change and make a difference in their lives,” he said. “We just simply failed.”

“Mother” Mamie Moore, head of the English Avenue Neighborhood Association, challenged the community to send their children to the center. She said residents fought for six months to get the city to see the need for the facility and had a seat at the table. To not use it would be a grave error.

“We want the babies to come here before they see the back seat of the (police squad) car,” Moore said.