MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Violent crime is plaguing Memphis, which is why WREG is asking the question: What can we do to stop it?
We’ve pointed fingers, heard calls for action, seen angry posts on social media, but what steps can we take now to change it?
“Forty-eight years ago, my mom put me in the Big Brother program, because she was a single mom,” Chris Thomas said.
Thomas said he welcomed the idea of having a male figure in his life through Big Brothers Big Sisters, a nonprofit in Memphis that pairs an adult volunteer to mentor a child.
“I was matched with an 18-year-old Rhodes college student at the time,” he said.
He believes it helped him stay the right path, go to college, land a good job and even become a Shelby County commissioner several years ago.
Now, he’s returning the favor. He’s a big brother to Casey.
“There are so many young men out there without a male role model. They are left to do whatever. Part of that is crime. Part of that is not going to school,” he said.
“Every child should have a mentor in their life. At least one,” Susan George said.
She leads Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Mid-South. She says they’re desperate for more men to volunteer.
“When you have 88 children on your wait list, and 92% of them are boys that are waiting for a mentor,” she said. “Some have been waiting almost 12 months.”
Studies done by the non-profit show nearly half the children in the program in the Mid-South are less likely to do drugs, 27% are less likely to start drinking alcohol, and 37% are less likely to skip school.
National studies show children with mentors are less likely to inflict violence or commit crime.
Right now in Memphis, juvenile violence is on the rise. More than 500 children were arrested last year for a violent act.
“Crime is a symptom, so you go back and look at root causes, and you have to say well maybe they don’t have peer mentors. There are volunteer opportunities for peer mentors,” Reggie Crenshaw said.
He and Ebony Moore work with Volunteer Memphis. They work with 300 nonprofit organizations and schools and connect volunteers to the right one.
“It could be reading to a kid. It’s going up to pick up a trash and beautifying an area. It’s planting gardens. It’s giving items to people who are un-housed,” he said.
“The more folks that get out and volunteer, obviously the greater the impact to the community,” Moore added.
Yet in 2019 through 2021, a study showed fewer people were volunteering. Only 23% of Americans volunteered at least one time in the previous year — during a time where more people are struggling.
According to the University of Memphis, the poverty rate increased in the Bluff City in 2021. Almost one out of four are living in poverty, and the poverty rate among children is 32%. African Americans are among the highest.
Researchers say the community needs to do more to address the needs.
“To me, these sorts of issues are about access. Who has and who doesn’t have,” Jazmin Miller said.
She runs the Carpenter Art Garden in Binghampton. It’s a nonprofit providing after-school activities, classes and vocational training to more than 100 children.
“We have seen them graduate high school and go into post secondary education,” Miller said.
She says they need of volunteers to help with their organic garden to provide fresh, healthy food to the kids and the neighborhood.
“Our youth are, can, and continue to be contributors to society. There’s an artist in there. There’s a poet in there. There’s an urban farmer in there,” she said.
Research shows that people who volunteer release more endorphins and become connected to their community.
“Makes me feel good that I am investing in some young man’s life, hoping that it will be just as successful as me and mike were,” Thomas said.
To this day, 48 years later, Thomas remains close with his big brother. Below are pictures from this Christmas. Their families celebrated together.
How to get involved:
If you are interested in helping Big Brothers Big Sisters: click here.
If you are interested in helping Carpenter Art Garden: click here or email email@example.com
If you are interested in other volunteer opportunities and want to sign up for Volunteer Memphis: click here.