Community leaders take up the call to keep kids away from gangs

COLUMBUS, Ga. -- Recent shootings bring to light a rise in recent gang activity. As gangs increase, so do the cries to stop them.

Community leaders and Columbus police tell News 3 solving the gang problem starts with having a positive impact on children.

"We realize that we've got to impact the youth, that's where it's got to begin," St. James Missionary Baptist Church Reverend Ralph Huling said.

Huling has many roles including president of the 100 Black Men of Columbus. The organization encourages middle school students make positive life choices.

"If we can catch these kids during the middle school years, there's a great possibility and a great chance we're going to be able to turn them around," Huling said.

He's not alone in his efforts to keep kids away from gang activity.

"The biggest thing there is teaching children, the teenagers, their own self values in the community in the grand scheme of things so they don't fall prey to those who want to get them in a gang for criminal activity," Columbus Police Corporal Travis Spencer said.

Corp. Spencer works with CPD's crime prevention team. He said officers teach the dare program in all 33 schools in Columbus starting in kindergarten.

"Officer Dan Williams was my DARE officer," Corp. Spencer. "The things he taught me back in sixth grade in DARE stayed with me and had a big impact on me."

The focus: helping children become productive young adults.

"Gang members are targeting them at the earlier stages of their development," Reverend Huling said.

Columbus police also offers the 'Great' program for seventh graders and even offers internships to high school and college students.

"We lost a friend, a classmate that I know here recently to gang violence so it's very important to get the information to them as early as possible so they can avoid those snags in the road later on," Corp. Spencer said.

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