PORTSMOUTH, Va. — One Portsmouth pastor says when it comes to gun violence, it's time to stop talking and start doing.
Community leaders, police chiefs and activists have discussed the gun violence problem in Hampton Roads all year.
"When you turn on the news, it’s teenagers. Teenagers are shooting, teenagers are being shot," said Barry Randall, better known in Portsmouth as the People's Pastor.
Starting in 2022, he is taking steps to change the dark path many teens are on.
"If the children are our future, but then you look at what’s presently happening, our future don’t look too bright."
So, he’s starting The Rite of Passage Challenge. It's 12-week intensive training for at-risk boys who are 14 to 16 years old.
Randall is partnering with the Portsmouth Sheriff’s Office, Parks and Recreation and other community groups to offer things including trauma and grief counseling, music, art and even golf.
He's also bringing in local employers to offer some of the teens job opportunities.
People who work in behavioral health and social services will also come to meet with the teens to provide aftercare once the program is finished.
"A lot of these young people all they see is the hood, all they see is shooting," he said. "We want to take them to a five-star restaurant, we want to take them to a five-star hotel, we want to take them to plays and Broadway shows, to let them know there is much more to life than just rapping and stealing and killing."
Randall said the program is for teenage boys who are suspended, facing a pending court case, in and out of juvenile detention, in a gang or disrespectful to authority.
"We don’t expect them to snap out of it in 12 sessions, however, we want to do what we can do to help them along," he said.
He needs volunteers to make it happen. Randall is looking for men to come to at least one session a month.
"We need men with jobs, we need men that are business owners, we need them to be able to come in and let these guys know what it means to be a productive citizen."
Randall said now more than ever, it is vital to be proactive and not reactive and teach these kids while they’re young.
"You have a right to be upset, you have a right to be angry. However, what you do not have the right to do is harm someone because you’re angry and to harm someone because you’re upset."
They're only accepting 12 teens per session, and the first group runs from January 1st to March 26th. The second session goes from April 2nd to June 25th.
The sessions are on Saturdays from 1 to 4 p.m. and it's free for everyone.
Randall says the sheriff's office will give rides to and from the sheriff's training station, so parents can be sure their teen is safe.
He said they've already gotten a response from parents wanting to enroll their kids, so if you're interested in getting your teen involved, or volunteering, Randall says to email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 757-692-8877.
On the state level, Gov. Ralph Northam announced his proposed two-year state budget will include $27.4 million to address gun violence.
That money will go towards creating the Center for Firearm Violence Intervention and Prevention at the Department of Criminal Justice Services.