ATLANTA, Ga. (CW69 News at 10) — Twenty teenagers, ages 13 to 17, who are on probation for anything from burglaries to violent crimes, are coming face-to-face with law enforcement and mentors at the At Promise Center on Metropolitan Parkway. Federal, state and local officials partnered with a group called Credible Messengers to host a 10-week youth Summer Violence Intervention Program. It’s part of a Department of Justice initiative called Project Safe Neighborhoods.

“So often in our communities, the spike in crime has been driven by juvenile offenders,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Kurt Erskine. “They’re all wrapping around these juveniles in an attempt to make them successful.” The youth are participating in forums, community engagement and learning life and career readiness skills.

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“There’s too many young African American males and young ladies going to prison,” said Omar Howard, a mentor and credible messenger. “To be a credible messenger, you have to have a credible message,” Howard said, sharing his story. “I did 15 years in the Georgia Department of Corrections for 13 major felonies, from manslaughter to armed battery and assault.” He went from incarceration to receiving an honorary doctorate degree. His organization, Freedom is a Choice, Inc., also provides resources. “It’s geared toward encouraging youth to choose freedom over incarceration,” he said.

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Another mentor, Angela Wright, was a school teacher who got caught up in a drug conspiracy case and spent over 13 years behind bars. “I want them to know there’s more to life and that the same mind frame they used to do illegal activity they can use to better themselves,” she said, also weighing in on the summer program. “It’s kind of unheard of that the DA’s office wants to partner with a program such as At Promise Center to want to get kids to turn, so they’re giving them an opportunity, and I think it’s a great idea.”

“I wanted people to understand I made bad decisions. I had a mother that cried. I had a son that growed up without a father,” said Howard. The mentors are letting the youth know they can learn from their mistakes and create a winning future. Howard said he hopes the youth take away an important message. “Value your life. When you learn to value your life, you’ll start valuing other people’s lives,” he said.

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For the full DOJ press release on the summer initiative, click here.