Feb. 11, 2006 — Lined up along the edge of a five-foot-wide fictitious alligator pit, 18 St. John youths on hand Saturday for a Crime Watch of America learning program at John's Folly Learning Institute had to figure out how to position themselves by size without falling off the safety of their foot-wide row of tiles.
When asked by Crime Watch of America instructor James M. Corbett the why of what they were doing, Sylvester Anthony, 13, had the answer.
"We're learning to work together," he said.
Afrika Anthony, 13, said she already knew a lot of the information Corbett passed along, but said she was learning to create a system to help stem the island's growing tide of drugs, crime and violence.
Corbett, who taught at Guy Benjamin School back in the 1960s and at Central High School on St. Croix in the mid-1980s, said the territory had none of these problems back then.
He said that now he reads about young people involved in murders, rapes and bullying.
Corbett, who works setting up similar programs around the world for the Miami-based Crime Watch of America, told the youths that an average of 26 people are killed each weekend in Los Angeles' gang-related violence.
He said that in Jamaica, 15- and 16-year-olds are, in effect, running the country thanks to their criminal activities.
"It got started there just like it's starting here on St. John," he said.
Corbett said that today, youths ages nine, 10, 11, and 12 commit crimes that previously were the domain of those ages 16 through 19.
He told the youths that these problems will affect them, so it's up to them to report criminal activities when they see them happening or hear about them.
"We're not asking you to become snitches," he said.
He said that the students will serve as the core group to organize a youth crime watch system on St. John.
Guy Benjamin, whose name graces the elementary school in Coral Bay, told the youths that by getting involved with this program they would be doing something for the community and the world.
"If you can start something here on St. John, we will be the shining stars," he said.
Benjamin, 92, also noted that he taught school in the building that houses the John's Folly Learning Institute. It was then the Horace Mann School.
Corbett said that when he taught on St. John, Benjamin was his supervisor.
For more information on Youth Crime Watch of America, visit www.ycwa.org.
There are currently no plans to conduct the same type of workshop on St. Thomas or St. Croix.
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