Terry Davenport might be the visionary we need
by Will Moredock
The statistics are horrendous. Black youth, ages 10 to 16, represent only 38 percent of the state's population in that age group. Yet, according to the S.C. Department of Juvenile Justice, that 38 percent accounted for 58 percent of juvenile arrests in 2004-2005, 60 percent of youths in detention and 69 percent of youths in correctional institutions.
Among sociologists and criminologists this statistical disparity is called disproportionate minority contact, or DMC. For Terry Davenport, it is far more personal.
Two years ago she and her husband were about to despair for their 15-year-old son, Miles. For the first 13 or 14 years of his life he had been a bright and well-behaved youngster, had made good grades. As he reached his teen years, his behavior began to change. The toxic influence of black popular culture began to affect his behavior. He lost interest in his studies. He began acting out at home and at school.
â€œHe said he didn't want to be a Huxtable kid,â€ Davenport said, referring to the squeaky clean, middle class kids of old Bill Cosby television show.
She and her husband tried everything to reach him â€“ love, reason, faith â€“ but nothing worked. â€œI was ashamed of what was happening to my family,â€ she said. â€œI told myself, 'We're not that kind of family. What was wrong with us?'â€
Finally, after an incident which frightened Davenport and her husband, they realized this was more than they could handle. To protect themselves and Miles, they took out a warrant and had him arrested and consigned to the Department of Juvenile Justice.
â€œIt was all we could think of to do,â€ she said, tears almost coming to her eyes. â€œI was tired of wallowing in my misery and shame. We had to act.â€
The court ordered Miles to the sprawling Department of Juvenile Justice facility on Broad river Road, near Columbia, for 90 days, subject to release after 60 days of good behavior. Davenport and her husband visited him regularly during his incarceration. Shortly before his 60 days were up, Miles got into a â€œverbal altercationâ€ with another youth and lost his â€œgood timeâ€ early release.
She visited him shortly after that incident and, as she prepared to leave him there, she could see how frightened and depressed he was. She put her arms around him and asked him to repeat these words: â€œThis world will not consume me.â€
â€œThe words simply came to me,â€ she said. â€œIt was all that I could think of. It was all that I had to give him. I told him to take those words with him and repeat them over and over to himself.â€
That was two years ago. Terry Davenport's son is back home now, happy and well and seems to be back on track. But Davenport was irrevocably changed by the experience.
â€œWe felt so overwhelmed by the whole experience,â€ she told me. â€œMy husband and I have college educations. We could afford a lawyer. We understood how to work through a bureaucracy. And still we were just overwhelmed by it all.â€
Out of this experience Davenport founded Justice Academy USA, to provide information and resources, giving families and young people a chance at a productive life, free of crime and the criminal justice system.
â€œWe know what the enemies of young people are in our community,â€ she said. â€œThey are drugs, gangs, teen pregnancy, poverty and lack of education. But how can they avoid these traps that will destroy their lives?â€
To share her experience and her hard-won knowledge, Davenport organized the 2009 Youth Empowerment Summit at Burke High School last August. Nearly 500 young people and their parents went through a day-long boot camp of lawyers, professors, social workers, and others, including Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen and Charleston County Superintendent of Education Nancy McGinley, talking about the hard facts of life and the law. Sponsored by the Justice Academy USA and the Children's Law Center of the University of South Carolina, the summit was the first of four that Davenport plans to put on around the state over the next months. Her summits are convened under the trade-marked theme, â€œThis World Will Not Consume Me.â€
Terry Davenport is one of the most impressive people I have met in a long time. Community liaison director with Select Health of South Carolina, she has a vision and the skills to make it happen.
This state's burgeoning prison population, failed schools, and rising unemployment are a testament to generations of bankrupt leadership. It is too much to hope that our politicians could ever lead us out of this morass. But Terry Davenport gives me hope that someone out there might cut this Gordian knot and set us all free.
For more information: www.justiceacademyusa.com