“You have one life,” Orangeburg County Sheriff Leroy Ravenell said. “I want you to live your life. Don’t let your friends live your life.”
Ravenell spoke to a group of 29 students at Robert E. Howard Middle School on Friday.
The students completed the Gang Resistance Education and Training program, also known as G.R.E.A.T.
Sixth-grader Daejon Jenkins said the program taught him about the consequences of joining a gang.
He dreams of being an architect one day, he said.
He also wants to help keep the community safe and would encourage his peers not to join a gang.
Alana Montgomery, also a sixth-grader, said the program inspired her not to use drugs, join a gang or become an alcoholic.
Montgomery said she will tell any of her friends who think about using drugs, joining a gang or consuming alcohol, “If you’re doing that, it’s going to affect your whole future.”
Montgomery hopes to be a pediatric nurse one day.
And Lyndell Clemons, a seventh-grader, said the program taught him about the dangers of gang activities.
Clemons said that if his peers consider getting involved in gangs, he will tell them not to be in them “because it can’t get you anywhere except in jail or dead.”
“I’d tell them that they’re probably doing that because of peer pressure and I’d tell them to think twice before doing anything,” he said.
G.R.E.A.T. is a gang and violence prevention program built around school-based, law enforcement officer-instructed classroom curricula.
G.R.E.A.T. instructor Lorri Bennett said at the graduation that students learned through role-playing, workbooks and classroom activities that decisions made today affect one’s future.
Bennett said students learned about ways to be positive influences and citizens in Orangeburg County.
Sgt. Thomas Stroman, the school’s resource officer, also told of the ways students learned to keep drugs and gangs out of the community.
Rep. Jerry Govan, D-Orangeburg, spoke to the G.R.E.A.T. graduates.
He told them, “This is important. Actually, I grew up two blocks from here. I attended Robert E. Howard Middle School. I understand the peer pressure. I understand what it’s like to grow up in the area known as ‘The Hill.’”
He urged students to respect themselves first.
“If you don’t respect yourself, don’t expect others to respect you,” he said.
And to the parents who attended, Govan said, “Continue to help these kids with self-confidence.”
Ravenell told students, “I was nervous coming here this morning because I knew I’d be talking to the future doctors, lawyers, preachers and sheriffs.”
He encouraged students to always do the right thing in life.
“This is not an easy world we’re living in,” he said.
G.R.E.A.T. graduates include: sixth graders – Jordan Mack, Donovan Green, Arthur Browne, Franklin Wiley, Daejon Jenkins, Dalton Mann, India Murray, Alonna Jamison, Alana Montgomery, Desiree Watson and Amir Daniels; seventh graders – Naja Sanders, Jermaine Thompson, Lyndell Clemons, Shyiem Green, Jaida Belton, Anya Jamison, Jalen Cradic, Braniah Stevenson, Valyncia Felder, Jasmine Shuler and Shereshantia Clark; Eighth graders – Autumn Glover, Vivica Glover, Floyd Hart, Keson Snell, Aron Gates, Xavian West and Kerristen Fogle.