Message to Jefferson County: You must create youth leaders to impact positive change

Published 12:08 am Tuesday, August 6, 2019

BEAUMONT — John F. DeRosier has a simple message for Jefferson County Commissioners: They, alone, are not capable of redirecting young people caught in a cycle of poor academic performance and increasing incarceration rates.

The district attorney for Calcasieu Parish, Louisiana, was not being critical, adding he nor his elected counterparts in greater Lake Charles can do it either.

DeRosier, speaking Monday morning to many of the leading elected leaders in Jefferson County, said only young people can truly lead, influence and guide growth in their own underperforming environments.

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“How do we address the issue of racial injustice, differences, strife and conflict in the United States?” DeRosier asked. “We start with our young people. We need to create leaders who go into that community and make things better.”

That’s where the Impact Agency comes in.

About two years ago, DeRosier brought together his office, the city of Lake Charles, Calcasieu Parish Police Jury, Calcasieu Parish Sheriff’s Office and Calcasieu Parish Public Schools to fund the project that uses mentorship to combat a growing youth crime rate.

DeRosier tabbed Braylon Harris to lead the program, and Harris has since hired another full-time advocate and two dedicated part-time advocates to get the effort started.

“One of the things we found important is the understanding that (the young people) have to do it. The change has to come from the grass-roots level,” Harris said. “We have to do it from inside the room, and many times, we are only guests in those rooms.”

Through initial school system referrals, the Impact Agency targets student leaders.

Students are only accepted into the program after passing a rigorous screening process and delivering their and their parents’ commitments.

The Impact Agency meets weekly on Sunday afternoons with largely African American attendance; however, organizers stressed this week that their efforts are open to students of all ethnic backgrounds and would soon expand to female participants.

Local leaders heard about the effort and asked questions for more than an hour in open session Monday morning, later continuing the dialogue in the office of County Judge Jeff Branick while the County Commissioners’ other agenda items proceeded in main chambers.

District Attorney Bob Wortham was the most vocal local elected leader during Monday’s presentation, asking nearly a dozen questions about the program’s funding, focus on choosing student leaders and commitment breakdown from paid and volunteer staffers.

Impact Agency’s selection process of youth leaders seems to set it apart from similar efforts.

The group is open that they only seek out peer-to-peer influencers — ignoring possible negative influencing tendencies at first — with the confidence their committed volunteers and yearlong program will change the direction of willing participants.

Students accepted into Impact Agency are dubbed “agents” and are expected to then go back to their schools and positively impact student environments.

If it is determined the program should be replicated in Jefferson County, Monday’s gathering of elected leaders would be the first in a mentoring and setup process.

No decision date or ultimate determination is expected this week.