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justice in my town - old guard

In Lubbock, young people are dying due to gun violence. Here's how one advocate is reaching out

AJ McCleod knows the challenges and temptations young people growing up in East Lubbock can face. 

They often face two paths as they head to adulthood. 

One path leads to a life of quick money and infamy through crime and drugs and, sometimes, an early grave or prison. The other path, where they become productive members of society, often appears out of reach for some. 

A.J. McCleod
A.J. McCleod
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He recalls 17-year-old Christopher Jolly, who was gunned down at a block party in May. 

McCleod, a 33-year-old community advocate who mentors students in Estacado High School’s leadership program, said he spoke to Jolly a few weeks before his death about the consequences of the lifestyle he followed. 

"He was one of my kids when I was a director of the Boys and Girls Club," said McCleod, who now runs teen programming for YWCA of Lubbock. 

He had a similar conversation with another 17-year-old, who was killed in a New Year's Day shooting at a downtown Lubbock night club. 

"I talked to them and told them," he said. "And that's the hard part about it is that the street life is more enticing even when they know. When they see their family struggling and it's personal to me." 

'I couldn't imagine going through what some of my family is going through right now'

The deaths were a part of a spike in homicides involving youths and drugs earlier this year in Lubbock. By the end of July, Lubbock had seen 24 homicides -- well above the five-year average of 15. 

Though he grew up on the east side and advocates to improve the lives of the people there, he moved to a different part of the city after graduating from Texas Tech. 

"I love East Lubbock to death, but I couldn't imagine going through what some of my family is going through right now," he said. "My kids hearing gunshots and having to be put in the hallway all times of the night. That's really why I want these things to change, cause it deters people from our community.” 

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In May, AJ McCleod and other advocates organized peace walks at Lubbock’s East side to raise awareness about the recent spike in gun violence that has claimed the lives of youths.
In May, AJ McCleod and other advocates organized peace walks at Lubbock’s East side to raise awareness about the recent spike in gun violence that has claimed the lives of youths.
Provided by AJ McCleod

In May, McCleod and other residents of East Lubbock frustrated with the trend of violence claiming young lives looked for a way to reach out to vulnerable youths. The idea was to be a positive gang or clique that recruits and mentors the community’s youths. 

The concept manifested into what has been informally called "Peace on the East" walks, with the aim to draw out vulnerable youths, build a rapport with them and mentor them. 

"We wanted to be where our people from the neighborhood are talking to our young men and our young women and letting them know the consequences of some of their actions that not only affect them but affect the families that live in the community," he said. "Our goal ... is to stop gun violence number one." 

How McCleod is working to keeps kids off the streets

East Lubbock youths often come from single-parent families who rely on programs such as the Boys and Girls Club to keep them off the streets after school. However, once those youths age out of those programs, they too often turn to the streets where they may engage in crime and end up dead or in prison. 

“Those are the two things that we see that the streets always end up,” McCleod said. “You either end up dead or you end up in jail and that's the only two things that you can get. And I think a lot of our young men don't understand that.” 

A long-term goal of the movement is to put a building on the East side that offers a program designed to teach youths financial literacy, how to apply for jobs and living responsibility, so they can to take advantage of opportunities and resources available to them.  

However, the first and crucial step is recruiting youths and building relationships with them, McCleod said. 

“We can say, ‘You're going to prison if you go sell drugs’ a million times,” he said. “But if that's not somebody you trust, they don't care who’s saying it. You see it on the news all the time about people going to prison from selling drugs or getting hurt or whatever. So, building that trust and then it doesn’t matter where we're at, as long as we have the tools to be able to do it.” 


The team behind Justice in My Town - Old Guard

REPORTING: Douglas Clark Amarillo, Texas, Ray Criscoe Asheboro, NC, Hannah Winston Belle Glade, Fla., Chris Kenning Corbin, Ky., Mark Wilson Evansville, Ind., Gabriel Monte Lubbock, Texas, Safiya Charles Montgomery, Ala., Asha Gilbert Savannah, Ga., H. Rose Schneider Utica, N.Y., Scott Nunn Wilmington, N.C.

PHOTOGRAPHY AND VIDEOGRAPHY: Scott Pelkey Asheboro, N.C., Allen Eyestone Belle Glade, Fla., Joseph Forzano Belle Glade, FL, Sam Upshaw Corbin, Ky., Mike Lawrence Evansville, Ind., Mickey Welsh Montgomery, Ala., Steve Bisson Savannah, Ga., Adriana Iris Boatwright Savannah, Ga., Asha Gilbert Savannah, Ga., Alex Cooper Utica, N.Y., Matt Born Wilmington, N.C.

EDITORS: Rana L. Cash, Jill Nevels-Haun, Kristina Wood 

DIGITAL PRODUCTION AND DEVELOPMENT: Spencer Holladay, Diane Pantaleo, Elizabeth Milano, Cole Johnson

SOCIAL MEDIA, ENGAGEMENT AND PROMOTION: Sarah Robinson, Ana Hurler, Melanie Balakit, Courtney Sebasta