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Brian McGrory

Somewhere to turn

By Brian McGrory
Globe Columnist / June 2, 2010

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When two 14-year-olds die within a couple of miles of each other within the same month, Boston isn’t just in a crisis, it’s entered a new reality — a sobering, frightening reality.

It was but three weeks ago to the day that Tom Menino and his police commissioner, Ed Davis, sat in a second floor apartment with Jaewon Martin’s distraught family and told them they would do everything they could to prevent this from happening again. Again came quickly, and there they were, same pair, different family, talking about another young murder victim, Nicholas Fomby-Davis, and the pain crime brings.

At least Menino and Davis are angry and visible. Where is the black political leadership of the city? Where are those new city councilors of color, or the longtime black pols who are absolutely nowhere to be found? And where is the black ministry, besides bickering with one another or with City Hall?

If you’re a kid amid this cauldron, in the tougher sections of Dorchester, Roxbury, or Mattapan, hope is in short supply. You’re supposed to be concerned about the MCAS; what you’re actually worried about is getting to school alive. The life these kids know is one of shocking randomness, and it’s not clear that doing the right thing is a means to a better end.

“The kids now are absolutely terrified,’’ the Rev. Eugene F. Rivers III said. “They want a gun. They don’t want to be a criminal; they just don’t want to die.’’

Yesterday, the city’s leadership struggled for answers to problems that are hard to comprehend. In general, liberals prefer social work. Conservatives want more jails. The answer is both: helping the kids who can be helped, while giving nothing more than prison food to those who can’t.

Menino knows this. Sounding exhausted and frustrated late yesterday, he talked about the need for families to be more involved and for criminals to be taken off the streets.

The police, prosecutors, and judges need to start immediately. Parents do as well. If you’re a mother frightened about where things are headed, pick up the phone and call people who can help your kid see a better way.

Start with Tenacity, an extraordinary program that teaches tennis and reading to all age groups, at 617-562-0900, extension 27, or at summer@tenacity.org. There are half-day summer programs in 21 city parks, including six in Dorchester, Roxbury, and Mattapan.

It’s year-round program is even better. They get kids going into the sixth grade and launch them into a demanding an after-school tennis and reading program. As they finish eighth grade, students get help picking the right high school. More than 95 percent get a diploma. Of those, 80 percent get further education.

“These kids have all the potential in the world,’’ said Ned Eames, who runs Tenacity.

Or SquashBusters, founded by Greg Zaff, based in Roxbury, reachable at 617-373-7782. Admission to the program is more rigorous; results are extraordinary. Participants are chosen from the same neighborhoods in which Martin and Fomby-Davis died, provides intense academic tutoring and squash instruction from some of the most talented and nicest people in town, and sees them through to college — often at some of the most elite schools in New England.

There’s the Dorchester Youth Collaborative, at 617- 288-1748, with a drop-in center and other services. Call the Sportmen’s Tennis Club on Blue Hill Avenue, at 617-288-9092, for a litany of programs, from tennis to math.

Of course, there are the Boys & Girls Clubs of Boston. There’s also a website, Bostonnavigator.org that allows people to plug in their ZIP code and get a list of programs in their area.

While I’m at it, someone ought to step up and fund the boxing and literacy program Rivers has wanted to launch for years, one he’s dubbed “From Guns to Gloves,’’ in which kids use fists rather than bullets to take out their aggressions.

Brian McGrory is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at mcgrory@globe.com.

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