At-risk kids come for party, get help

Published May 20, 2007

ST. PETERSBURG - The walls of the Coliseum Ballroom vibrated in time to the pounding of drums and the rhythm of hip-hop Saturday while teenagers danced, spun and sang during a summit designed to help save at-risk youths.

Later in the day, the Rev. Run, a former member of the legendary rap group Run DMC, was the draw that kept kids in their seats for a serious discussion about the problems teens face.

"This is another method of attracting the kids we so need to save, " said Eric Green, founder and president of Everyone's Youth United, which spearheaded the Bay Area Youth and Parent Conference. If was the summit's second year.

Green founded Everyone's Youth United in 2000 as a way to reach lost youths. His goal was to first attract and retain them, which he did with a heavy dose of musical arts programing.

"Those are the carrots, " Green said. "Those are the things the kids like."

The tradeoff for the fun: good grades, regular school attendance, self-discipline and the like. Everyone's Youth United helps them by providing tutoring in life skills, help with the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test and access to computers.

"It actually began to work, " Green said.

Agencies such as the Pinellas County Juvenile Welfare Board noticed his success and gave grants that supplemented money Everyone's Youth United already had received from the city of St. Petersburg.

The success encouraged Green to try events such as Saturday's youth conference, which attracted several hundred youngsters. The morning was comprised of music, a modeling and a talent show.

The afternoon was a panel discussion with Dr. Benjamin Chavis of the Hip Hop Summit Action Network as well as Run and his son Jojo. Run and Jojo star with the rest of their family on the MTV reality show Run's House. The goal of the panel discussion was, in part, to listen to the kids talk about what problems they're facing and what might help solve them.

Run arrived at the Coliseum only moments before he was scheduled to appear on the panel discussion. "My quest and my ambition is to tell America to take your family back, " Run said.