POP brings community together to rally against youth violence

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SEVERAL OF THE honorees at the 2nd Annual Project Outreach and Prevention on Youth Violence (P.O.P.) Scholarship Banquet held July 30 at the Avalon Manor in Merrillville, IN are photographed with their award plaques. From left to right: Chareice White, Corey Waldron, Vondale Singleton, and the founders of P.O.P. — Reuben C. Rutland, M.D. and Michael McGee, M.D.

By Dezimon Alicea, Gary Crusader

Youth violence is a leading cause of death among teens in the U.S., and many people are concerned about ways to decrease this growing statistic. There is one group working diligently to not only decrease the number of teen deaths, but they are also working within the community to raise awareness of this epidemic. The organization is called P.O.P.

About a year ago, I sat down with Dr. Michael McGee, founder of the P.O.P organization, which stands for Project Outreach and Prevention on Youth Violence. As we talked I heard his passion and empathy for the young people dying as victims of violence.  Twelve months later, his simple formula of violence prevention has grown into a culture.

POP officially began two years ago, on paper. But P.O.P.’s roots can be found in the emergency unit of Methodist Hospital back in 2008.  Dr. McGee was working in the ER unit at that time, and he was witnessing first hand all of the young people coming in with injuries and deaths caused by gunshot and stab wounds. He partnered with Dr. Reuben Rutland, and POP was born.

HUNDREDS TURNED OUT for the 2nd Annual P.O.P. Scholarship Banquet, which included remarks by Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson and keynote speaker Dr. Robert Gore, founder of Kings Against Violence Initiative in New York.

From the ashes of tragedy, beauty was born in the form of P.O.P. The organization is not only dedicated to saving lives, but to enriching the lives of teens as well. P.O.P. promotes healthy lifestyles, career advancement and positive behaviors. Since their official start date, P.O.P. has awarded  scholarships and hosted events geared to the betterment of what some call “The Lost Generation.”

Recently P.O.P. hosted its second annual scholarship banquet.  During the program at Avalon Manor in Merrillville, Indiana, people from the community were honored for their civic involvement and advocacy.

The night was not shy of big names who carried a passion for teens. Darryll King, gospel radio personality of 102.3/ 106.3 in Chicago served as host for the evening. The mayor of Gary, Karen Freeman-Wilson, gave opening remarks. Wirt- Emerson supplied the musical selections. The keynote speaker was Dr. Robert Gore, founder and executive director of Kings Against Violence Initiative.

Those honored were Chareice White, of the ECIER Foundation; Bishop Sieon Roberts Sr., of New Hope Missionary Baptist Church in Gary; and Vondale Singleton of Chicago Champs Mentoring Program.

The night was filled with testimonies from people about the positive impact P.O.P. has made in the lives of young people and adults.  The room was filled to capacity with individuals from different regions and states, stating their support of the P.O.P. organization.  Laughter, compassion and gratefulness were the consistent messages of everyone who spoke.

P.O.P. has done impressive work in the community over the past few years, but its avid commitment is to acknowledging others in the community dedicated to giving their all for the advancement of young people.

Among African Americans, 10-24 year olds, homicide is the leading cause of death. It is the second cause among Hispanics.  These staggering statistics are alarming, but validate that the need for an organization like P.O.P. is not only necessary, but critical.

Organizations similar to P.O.P. come and go.  According to Dr. McGee, P.O.P. will be around for a very long time. He says there is a drastic need for the care and empathy P.O.P provides. They are always looking for volunteers to help with the vast amount of work.  To become a part of the tremendous work P.O.P. is doing visit them on the web, at www.nwipop.org.  The work of P.O.P. has extended to Chicago, visit them at www.chipop- .org as well. P.O.P. can also be reached at 219-718-9855.

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