As a public school teacher, Joe Marshall was devastated by the number of kids he was losing to prison or early, crime-related death. Finding that neither the justice nor school system seemed willing even to try to help, he co-founded the Omega Boys Club, based upon the belief that young people of the inner city want a way out of the life they're in, but don't know how to find one. Since the club's inception in 1987, he and his small army of street soldiers have helped 600 kids out of trouble, and sent 140 to college. His weekly radio call-in program, "Street Soldiers," is now broadcast throughout California to an audience of over 200,000. Through it, Joe reaches out to inner-city kids and offers them a practical resource for hope.
The story of Joe Marshall's incredible undertaking and tremendous success, Street Soldier is filled with tense confrontations and joyous celebrations. It is an uplifting story by and about one man who is making a difference--not only in hundreds of young lives, but for future generations as well.
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Dr. Joseph E. Marshall, Jr. is the Executive Director and Co-founder of Omega Boys Club, a violence prevention organization that emphasizes academic achievement and non-involvement with drugs. Through this organization, founded in March of 1987, Marshall has helped send more than 180 young men and women to college supported by the Omega Boys Club Scholarship Fund. To date 69 Omegas have graduated from college.
With a growing list of success stories, the Omega Boys Club continues to receive national acclaim. Marshall, staff and members of the club have been profiled in the New Yorker Magazine, People Magazine, the New York Times Magazine, the Los Angeles Times Magazine, Essence Magazine, CNN, the Disney Channel, CBS Evening News, The Today Show, McNeil Lehrer Report, the Oprah Winfrey Show, B.E.T. Tonight and the VIBE Television Show.
In 1990, Marshall was honored at the White House for his success in fighting drugs and crime in his community. He is currently a Planning Board Member of the Surgeon General's Report on Youth Violence and he is a former member of the Harvard University School of Public Health, Advisory Board for the Community Violence Prevention. In March 1997, Marshall received a bi-partisan salute from the United States Congress when he was presented with the Freedom Works Award by House of Representatives Majority Leader, Richard K. Armey, Republican of Texas and seconded by California Democrats Ron Dellums and Nancy Pelosi.
Marshall is the recipient of many national awards including, the 1994 "Genius Award" Fellowship from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, a 1994 Leadership Award from the Children's Defense Fund, and the 1996 Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Award from the National Education Association.
In April 1994, he, along with Denzel Washington, Quincy Jones, Spike Lee, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Robert Moses, Eddie Murphy and Benjamin Carson, M.D., received the Essence Award, honoring outstanding achievements by African American Men.
In addition to his work with Omega Boys Club, Marshall hosts the only nationally syndicated violence prevention call-in radio talk show in America, "Street Soldiers". The show allows youth to speak about pressing problems confronting their communities such as crime, gang and school violence, teenage pregnancy and drugs and receive practical solutions. The show has been hailed by Ken Auletta of New Yorker Magazine as "a model for how the entertainment industry can come to terms with violence."
Marshall is the author of the best-selling book Street Soldier, One Man's Struggle to Save a Generation, One Life at a Time, (Delacorte Press, May 1996) and he and the Club are the subject of a PBS documentary on violence prevention entitled Street Soldiers.
Joseph Marshall holds a dual Bachelor's Degree in Political Science and Sociology from the University of San Francisco; a Master of Arts in Education from San Francisco State University; and, a Doctorate in Psychology from Berkeley's Wright Institute in. He is currently on leave from the San Francisco Unified School District where he was employed as a teacher and administrator for twenty-five years.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
My most vivid memory of childhood is that of my father getting up at five-thirty every morning to dig ditches for the Southern California Gas Company. I would groan and roll over in my bed, not the least bit aware of how lucky I was to have such a role model in the house.
A short while after Pops returned home every afternoon, soiled and sweaty, my mother would leave for her job as a night nurse. One of my parents was nearly always home, and one of them was nearly always working. Through such an arrangement, they miraculously managed to send all nine of the Marshall children to college. It was an incredible feat that took me a long time to fully appreciate.
The upshot of all the parenting and sacrificing and nurturing that went on in our house was that it created enough of a buffer against the madness of the inner-city streets to keep me not only alive and free but healthy, straight, and relatively safe. That might not sound like much, but for a black city boy growing up in our society, it's about the best you can hope for.
Because of my home life, I was luckier than many of my friends and acquaintances in South Central Los Angeles, and from the start it made me a little different. It made me relatively tranquil--at least by comparison with the scowling, bullyish brothers who hung together in clusters in the parks and on the street-corners--and it also made me ambitious in a way that might have been more socially responsible, or perhaps legitimate, than was the local custom. But even so, there was a thread of union and communion that ran through all of us. We were all young and black, each trying in his own way to survive on the cold hard streets of urban America.
In general, and now in retrospect, the overwhelmingly positive nature of my own upbringing--and that core of union and communion between all of us--has left me with the unshakable conviction that people can be made immune to their surroundings, however vile or pernicious. I hold tightly to the belief that inner-city teenagers can be taught and raised in such a way that they don't have to become part of the wantonness swirling around them. They can be persuaded to steer clear of guns when everyone else is packing M.A.C.-10s; to stay sober when everyone else is drinking forties; to stay clean when everyone else is either selling crack or smoking it, if not both. They can--and given the opportunity, frequently do--become part of the solution.
What makes this possible is the peculiar fact that the players of the urban game actually hate the game they play. Although few show it and fewer admit it, many of them inwardly despise the violence and the degradation that rule the neighborhoods and bring so much anger and pain to them, their families and their friends. They join the game only because they can't beat it; or, more to the point, because they think they can't beat it. Because it's all they see, they think it's all there is. And because they recognize no alternative, they become the very thing they despise: players in the game. To some, playing the game means getting crazy-rich off crack. To most, it means taking care of business. To all of them, without exception, it means earning a rep. Tragically, it means being a predator so as not to be prey.
The homie does these things because, unlike me thirtysomething years ago, he has no fortification against an environment that has escalated its attack upon him. He inhabits a different world than I did. He faces serious unemployment issues that discourage the legal work ethic it takes to compete in mainstream American society. He has to deal with weapons of war that have been literally dumped on the streets of America--AK-47s, Uzis, nine millimeters, glocks, M.A.C.-10s. But most of all, he has to deal with crack cocaine, the worst thing to hit black America since slavery. Hell, crack is worse than slavery. Crack cocaine pulls young men into the illegal work ethic--some as young as age nine or ten--and most of them never manage to get out of it, ending up dead or in jail. But there is something even more pernicious, even more insidious, about crack. Crack has been able to do something even slavery couldn't do: It has stopped the African-American woman from mothering her child. Imagine that--a force stronger than motherhood. The effects of crack are nothing short of unbelievable.
So here sits the homie with a daddy he never sees, hardly knows, and deeply resents. Hell, Daddy's probably in prison anyway. Mom's home being both Mom and Dad, but too often now she's strung out herself, buried too deep in her own problems to worry about fixing snacks or checking the bookbag when her son gets home from school. And dude's angry about that because he knows he's getting screwed. Other adults, meanwhile, the extended community--well, they're scared to death of him because he's been terrorizing them from the age of thirteen.
So the homie goes where people are there for him, at least ostensibly. He goes to the streets to hang out with the other brothers who have nobody at home, either, and who share the same problems. As a group--a gang, a set, a clique, a posse, whatever you want to call it--the lot of them try to be for each other what they desperately need in their lives: men. Of course, they don't know how to do that because nobody's shown them. Nobody has shown them about getting up at five in the morning to dig ditches; about responsibility; about values; about what's really important; about what works and what doesn't work. They think taking care of each other means protecting each other's backs from homies in the next hood who are also trying to protect each other's backs.
The information process has obviously miserably failed these young men. Instead of fathers and mothers at home giving them information to live by, they have homeboys and homegirls in the streets giving them infommation to die by. The communication crisis is like a virus that has been sweeping over the inner cities ever since I grew up in South Central. But it's not incurable. It can be arrested. I believe--hell, I knew, I've seen it proven--that with the right information and guidance, the homies' immune systems can be built up to a level at which the kids have some protection against themselves. We can put a stop to black genocide by inoculating the young brothers with knowledge and tender loving care. It must be done, and if their own parents aren't up to the task, it has to be done by one of us, the lucky ones. Actually, it has to be done by a lot of us. It is our duty and special privilege to open up our lives to the children whom fate has dumped on the street and society has left there. By making our resources their resources--by giving them some of the time and support that every kid needs--we can make them just a little luckier. Very often, that's all it takes.
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