The year is 1992. Orangeburg County is experiencing an outbreak of deadly violence with young people at the root of some of the worst incidents.
Community leaders are speaking out. The crisis is the subject of public meetings in churches and other community venues.
Law enforcement is looked to for solutions even as people know the police alone cannot solve crime. The real solution is turning people away from the bad by teaching them the good – educating them at a young age.
But teaching young people is more than a job for the schools, which face the problem of too many students having little or no parental influence.
The community has to step up, Orangeburg is told. But a community is no stronger than the individuals willing to take the lead in making a difference.
Enter L. Zimmerman Keitt.
"I believe that we're put here for a particular reason and when we discover that reason, we owe it to the world to let it shine,” she said.
Keitt had long before decided she was here to make a difference – particularly in the lives of young people.
Amid a professional career at Claflin University, she found time for much more, starting 22 youth chapters of the NAACP.
"I think all young people should be a part of something like the NAACP or some constructive group where they can get guidance and help with their problems," Keitt said.
Already she had been further serving the community as Orangeburg mayor pro tempore since 1989. But she knew she had to do more.
In 1992 Keitt started Project Life: Positeen, an after-school tutorial program. Students from K5 to high school gather from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Monday-Thursday to receive tutoring in math, English-language arts, science, social studies and writing. Building self-esteem is a key component.
"I saw so many kids on the street that shouldn't be there," she said during a 1995 interview, "and so many latch-key kids that needed some attention that working parents just didn't have the time to give. And somebody needed to provide that."
This past weekend, Project Life: Positeen marked 25 years of doing the providing, having come a long way from serving 12 Howard Middle School students at the old Orangeburg city gym. Growth prompted a move to Claflin University and then to Trinity United Methodist Church before Project Life-Positeen found a permanent home on Summers Avenue.
And growth has led to establishing three more sites, with plans to expand into Holly Hill, Elloree and St. Matthews.
“It doesn’t seem like 25 years. It’s fantastic, especially with seeing where some of these children started with us and where they are now. It’s just amazing. But more than that, God gave me this program, and I guess I just obeyed,” Keitt says now.
And the people of Orangeburg – from the youngest to the eldest – have been the beneficiaries. L. Zimmerman Keitt continues to make the community a better place.
And her words from 1995 ring true on the Project Life: Positeen anniversary more than two decades later:
“We need to live and let live in this community and communicate with everyone we come in contact with. We must help each other when there is a need. There is so much to do and if we all did a little bit we would get a lot done. If I can help somebody, then my living will not be in vain."