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Youth Culture In Columbus: Have We Totally Lost Communication?

Ron Williams

While helping around The Riverwalk stage area during last Saturday night’s free after-Market Street concert, I had to haul some musical equipment for entertainer Mark ‘Muleman’ Massey and his band. The band had parked near the Rubens parking lot area and we had to use 4-wheelers to haul their equipment up to the Riverwalk stage. Right before the concert was to begin at 5 p.m., around a couple hundred youth had gathered in the area between the stage and Rubens parking area along the Riverwalk. As a few volunteers and myself made our way on the 4-wheelers down the Riverwalk and across the Moore’s Creek bridge, many of the youth were trying to be confrontational…by making comments and deliberately slowing down and getting in the way of the vehicles. A couple of Columbus Police officers were near the bridge and a few youth could be heard saying, “I’m not scared of the police…I’ll cuss them out too.”
Massey’s drummer and bass player are Dexter and Garry Burnside, brothers, and sons of another famous bluesman, RL Burnside. The two live and have grown up near Memphis, where they’ve been playing bars and events since they first started out in the music biz. Dexter and Garry were riding along with us on the 4-wheelers. After hearing some of the confrontational comments from many of the youth, Gary tapped his brother on the shoulder and said, “hey, man…I know these are our people (he was refering to them being black kids), but have you ever seen anything like this?” Part of his comment to his brother was likely fueled by the fact that we had just passed a young couple who were standing on the edge of the Riverwalk near the Moore’s Creek bridge. The teen boy and girl were ‘dry-humping’ in full view of everyone around, including a couple of nearby Columbus Police officers (though I couldn’t say for sure that they saw it…I would want to believe that they certainly would have put a stop to that. RW). In fact, as we drove by, the couple looked us straight in the eye and continued to ‘dry-hump’. We ended up making 3 trips back and forth along that part of the Riverwalk hauling equipment. Each time we were met with confrontational comments.
The majority of the couple of hundred kids that evening were between 12 to 17, by my estimate (and in this particular case, were all black kids…though there has been confrontations with white kids by some at other locations in Columbus. RW). Sunday, I made a comment about the issue on the Columbus, Ms. Facebook Watch page. In the comment, I used the term ‘thugs’ in describing the youth (because, to me, that’s how they were acting. RW). One particular poster took offense to my term and left comments (which she later deleted on her own. RW). The post has since gone viral (in a local sense of the word) and garnered much attention. So much so, that Lynn Sanders Nordquist, one of the page’s founders, suggested that concerned citizens attend the next Columbus City Council meeting to address the issue. Nordquist called Chief Operations Officer David Armstrong and was placed on the Citizens Input Agenda at the next council meeting, which will be Tuesday, May 15th at 5 p.m. at the Municipal Complex.
Nordquist is asking that as many citizens as possible attend the meeting to address the concerns of Columbus youth (black and white) hanging out near the Riverwalk, Downtown, Propst Park, K-Mart parking lot…anywhere where citizens go and are subjected to comments or confrontational actions. And let it be pointed out that these hot spots where kids gather and behave confrontational involve both black and white youth. The issue is certainly not confined to just one race.
Granted…we can analyze what causes the problem – lack of organized activities for youth, lack of parental involvement and control, lack of discipline, lack of simple morality in general – but often that can become an excuse for such behavior. We certainly need to address all of those concerns, but we need to address this issue, head-on, with an intelligent discussion of the facts at hand (from both black and white concerned citizens). As Scott Colom told me, “It’s not a racial issue…it’s a cultural issue.” Colom, who writes a weekly article in the Commercial Dispatch and recently served as a Lowndes County Justice Court Judge, intends to be at the meeting to take part in the discussion. Nadia Dale, a CVB board member, hopes to be there as well. Dale and others have organized a Wake Up Project that will take place this weekend at MUW. The project is to raise awareness and hopefully change the negative attitudes and perceptions of our youth.
Many of these youth (that were present at the Riverwalk Saturday evening) could likely be part of local gangs. Numerous fights broke out along the Riverwalk area, parts of downtown etc. after the festival and concert were over with. The problem is that many of those people who attended the festival and the concert saw those fights and were concerned with safety issues. It needs to be noted that the issue at hand is not a Market Street Festival issue…it’s a city issue that can happen on any given weekend or weekday at locations throughout the city…and at anytime. It will eventually (and probably already has) affect any outside public event at The Riverwalk, Propst Park, or anywhere else these events take place. Gunshots were fired near the park a couple of weeks ago, an incident that has been well-publicized in The Packet and other publications.
And let’s not minimize or sugarcoat this issue, either. We’re not talking about a bunch of youth that are just unruly, here. Though, some of them are only that, many of these youth are carrying weapons…knives, guns, etc. This is not overkill or made-up drama…the fear here is that someone totally innocent, will get caught-up in the middle of one of these gang wars, and be seriously injured…or even killed.
During discussion of the issue on the Facebook Watch page, one member said her 16 year-old son was reading the comments. He said he knew not to make “eye-contact” with the gang members. It reminded me of one of my trips up the Riverwalk while on the 4-wheeler. I made eye contact with a (I’m assuming. RW) gang member. He said, “I don’t play”, to which I replied, “I don’t either.” (I’ve since been told I was crazy for even saying anything. But I feel if we show fear to these kids, it’ll just make matters worse. I grew up around men that feared no human. People like ‘Oop’ Swoope, Robert Smith, ‘Tuffy’ Bourland and Willie Mack Coleman, among many others. You don’t show fear to anyone…you just can’t. RW)
The issue needs to be dealt with…and dealt with now, especially if Columbus wants to survive as a growing, thriving community where decent people, black, white and of any nationality, want to live, work and send their children to school. Racial division can’t be allowed to destroy this town any more than cultural division. The naysayers and those who promote that division need to stay out of it…and let those concerned try to deal with this issue. It’s imperative for our very existence.

In a related matter…Longtime Columbus musician Keith Brown (Keith & Margie) made a post on his Facebook page this week with a heartfelt plea of his own about the youth taking part in ghetto fight videos being posted on Youtube and other such places. And his thoughts on our youth in general. Here is what Keith had to say:

KEITH: This is MY opinion ok! Yours may be different, but right now Im speaking for MYSELF!!! I dont like these “ghetto fight ” videos. I dont watch em’ and I think they are a danger to our culture. This is sending out a negative image to our already troubled youth. There’s nothing cute about it. Lord knows I wish we could turn our youth around. It really troubles me when I hear about a shooting…or a big fight somewhere. If I thought for one moment that I could, reach just one, maybe that one could reach another. I tell you we have to start setting examples for the youth. And when they get all up in your face with “you cant tell me nothin’, tell them thats WRONG too. Young people gotta learn once again to respect the elders. Some of these people raised anywhere from 5 to 15 kids in shotgun houses, never had to bail one out, never had to bury one, never had welfare, (cause the older kids had to work too). We can do this y’all. We just gotta stop making excuses for them. As a community we’re responsible for our own. Im very concerned about this and I hope some of you are too. And to any young person out there that may read this, I want you to do this for me……………..Find and older relative, or family friend, take some time and just sit down and talk to them, Young men find a older man who was once a soldier sit down and talk to him. Girls find a lady in your community, whose a retired nurse or school teacher. Ask questions, and above all ………Listen, and learn. I love y’all……… Keith Brown.

Well said, Keith.

Ron Williams can be reached by email at Ronsings2you@aol.com



  1. Ben

    I left Columbus years ago and am now a teacher elsewhere in the state and I would like to say your experience was isolated, but in truth this happens everywhere. It is not uncommon for students at my school to curse at teachers. You are correct that this kind of behavior must unfortunately be responded to with equally boorish behavior though.

  2. Robert

    Great commentary from Mr Williams on the serious problem facing residents of “The Friendly Crime City”. A Must Read for all residents of Columbus.

  3. Charlie

    He said, “I don’t play<<

    Probably not the only thing he "don't" do.

    Could probably add –

    don't read
    don't have a job
    don't have a lick of sense
    don't have any future
    don't have any obligations to kids he's fathered

    Just another prison number waiting to happen.

  4. Stacey

    Columbus has evolved to a full blown thug filled ghetto, and the citizens are to blame. Get a Juvenile Detention Center for kids that can’t act appropriately. Enforce rules. If you don’t, you’ll end up with more random unsolved murders by the same thugs once they’ve grown a little, gotten some more arrogance, and access to firearms. Shame on you, Columbus.

  5. GREAT ARTICLE !!! You and the other concerned citizens of the area are so right. IF in FACT the powers that be do not get a handle on this situation it will get to>> One day everyone will look around and ask, “What happened to OUR beautiful city”??? The answer will be, you didn’t care enough about the INVESTMENT you and the generations that came before you made through paying taxes, working, fighting wars, having good morals and pride to make it a safe serene place to be. Ron, I have been under the assumption that Columbus has LAW ENFORCEMENT. There is a LAW against DISTURBING THE PEACE isn’t there? There is NO REASON in the world that this can’t be stopped, if there is then please state it. Are the police etc.. scared of these PUNKS (white,black,purple I give a rat’s a$$, a PUNK IS A PUNK no matter the color)??? What about their parent/parents??? RIDICULOUS and SHAMEFUL to even have to address such a problem. How much are these little clowns (they dress like clowns) costing the city/county in revenue just when an event is held? Events are held to stimulate the economy, to show outsiders that a city/area is inviting and a nice place to be so as to make then want to visit again or possibly even move to that city. SORRY but there ISN’T ENOUGH ROOM HERE and I know you (Columbus) are not alone with these problems. The problems HAVE BEEN HANDLED in many cities smaller and far larger than Columbus is. Like you stated in your article, there were at one time in Columbus, MEN that would not have let things get this out of hand… WHERE ARE YOUR MEN AND LEADERS TODAY??? God Bless…

  6. Great article..We need to be proactive and not reactive. Nothing is going to change until we stand up and stand together. Going before the City Council may not help any but do nothing will surely send us as Columbus citizens down this dangerous road that will only get worse. Thanks Ron.

  7. dckj

    Let’s see it’s not about race but you managed to use the word “black” FIVE times!! Obviously, your “CONCERNED” WHITE GUY schtik is just a cover for your moronic bigotry! YOU ARE A JOKE!

    • ...

      He used the word black because he was referring to the actions of a group of black teenagers. Should people not be able to describe each other in regards to color? If a group of white people were causing trouble and you reported them, would you not describe them as white? I would. I don’t care what color anyone is. A threat is a threat (“I don’t play”) and I don’t care whose mouth it is coming from.

    • Jessica

      There was no other word to use, and I for one am glad he didn’t skirt around the issue. For the issue that night, it WAS a massive, unruly gathering of black kids. That is a fact, and well I know it, as I wandered out late that night and attempted to stop at the Chevron across the riverwalk. The police had to ESCORT me through the madness, and the Chevron staff shut the place down temporarily due to vandalism inside the store. Hundreds and hundreds of black kids, and nothing but white cops everywhere. Sorry the situation was as racially charged as it could be, and I’m glad he didn’t neglect to mention it. That night, as the unrest and boldness of the crowd grew, and the tired policeman grew quietly irate…. it was about race!

  8. Ron, I really do think social networking and other technologies can help deal with many of the problems we have in our city today, but regardless of the tools we have available and which ones we are or aren’t using, how many of us talk about only those things we disagree with or have a problem with, ignoring or tacitly supporting the problems we feel are not serious to us?
    I’ve been beating a drum for the last six or seven years, the one of drinking alcohol on public school property in the CMSD, but what has been the response? When I post photos of the bottles and cans of beer, wine and distilled alcohol I have picked up in the CHS parking lot, what were the comments made? When I went out on a weekly cleanup to pick up the alcohol containers early on Sunday mornings before people began arriving at the church next door to the parking lot, what happened (I was threatened with arrest).
    I have been accused of spoiling the fun for students at the high school. Excuses for the drinking on school property range from only adults are doing it to it’s a right of passage for young people at the school, to why didn’t I pick up the lost at the private schools.
    It wasn’t just my issues with the drinking, drugs and behavior at the schools, CMSD employees have problems with the students and are afraid to complain for fear of losing their jobs. Teachers and bus drivers, custodial employees, maintenance employees, food service workers, many of them have serious concerns about their safety every day.
    People who have questioned why there are no longer rules posted at the school parking lots and other public areas, who have expressed their concerns about personal safety, they have been ridiculed and belittled, employees told they should take all concerns to an administration that has, more often than not, ignored the problem or made it worse.
    No teacher or school employee need fear being a physically assaulted on the job. Young people who are at school to learn also shouldn’t fear being assaulted and don’t need the distraction of bullies and gang activity during one of the most important times of their lives, their school days in the public education system.
    Problems with young people in the schools are not just a reflection of the problems with young people in the community, but the two are related and the root causes are the same and the solutions are the same.
    In the one major move the CMSD administration has seemed to make to address the problems at the high school, the hiring of a no-nonsense person like Mr. Hallmark, what happened? He was an instant target for the parents of students who broke the rules and the CMSD administration caved in, just as they have caved on posting and enforcement of rules at the high school.
    Personally, I’m tired of politicians shrugging their shoulders like they don’t have a clue about what to do. I have personally talked to Robert Smith about this (when we met about my being threatened with arrest for trying to carry a video camera into a public city council meeting) and made the one suggestion the easiest to do. I’d make the same suggestion to every city politician and official. Get the kids, the young people, the students, into a cafeteria, lunch room, gymnasium, somewhere they can’t leave and tell them like it is. Talk to them, tell them what’s going on, that people are tired of it and tell them the way it’s going to be and that they can contribute and benefit from it, or they can fight it and suffer the consequences. Then get every school administrator on board, get the police chief and the youth court, the parents groups who are for real and, for Pete’s sake, get the residents of the neighborhoods around the schools on board. Listen to their concerns and take them seriously. They have something to say. Listen.
    Tell me, what good is it that we have politicians who are quick to tell someone how far they have come, that they have overcome some barrier or another, but none of these celebrity officials have used their status to talk frankly, a tough love talk with these young people? That’s why its hard to understand when they shrug their shoulders. Show me the effort. Are they afraid of losing their street cred if they sit these young people down in a gym and talk to them straight up and hard core? Maybe we have the wrong people in places in government. Maybe what we need is people with backbone who won’t back up and won’t back down. Just my opinion.

  9. JohnnyPhillipMorris

    If “pot” is ever de-criminalized. it’ll go a long way to curb the street violence. I dunno’ about the dry-humping, though?

    • Jessica

      You potheads need to come off of it, the legalization of pot has nothing to do with it. All that will do is have youth congregating in the streets…with joints in their hand.

  10. marshall joyner

    take out thad william johnson and devion williams on sand rd. thats the thugs from sand rd.

  11. marshall joyner

    airforce citizens from kaye field take my historical town back if you have to arrest every punk on the st. after 7 o clock lowndes is out of order

  12. JohnnyPhillipMorris

    The present state of New South anarchy is the consequence of the policies of every administration since FDR. It was only the post-Reconstruction Jim Crow laws that prevented this deplorable state of racial afairs from happening a hundred years earlier. The humanitarian solution to the end of slavery after secession would’ve been the repatriation of the slaves back to their ancestral homelands. Had that happened, today their descendants would be sitting atop of all those precious mineral resources buried deep in Central and West Africa. And Mississippi would not be morphing towards a Carribean-style mulatto republic.

    Mississippi author Allan Huffman’s book, Mississippi In Africa:The Saga of the Slaves of Prospect Hill Plantation and Their Legacy In Liberia Today, tells the true story of Claiborne County, Mississippi slaves’ voluntary emigration back to what is now Liberia. Huffman even travels to Liberia to speak with some of the Ross Family slave descendants;the Liberian “Mississippi” was under siege and Huffman was encouraged by the American embassy not to travel there. During the war many of the Greek-revival mansions the returning slaves had built there were burned to the ground.

    And, there really was a General Butt Naked that led the fighting during the Liberia-Sierra Leone war.

  13. Larry Beeman

    It never ceases to amaze me whenever I read an article on this subject how it is always mentioned that “there are white kids that also….” When everyone knows (if they are being totaly honest) that 95% of the youth/crime problem in Columbus can be traced to the black male…

  14. JohnnyPhillip Morris

    …there are white kids that also…~

    I think that the descriptive term now coming into vogue is crypto-black…folks who are enamored of who mimic black culture. Still waiting for the definitive word to be included in the Urban Dictonary.

  15. JohnnyPhillipMorris

    Actually, the word is crypto-n***o. But, while rhyming with crypto, it isn’t politically acceptable in “mixed” company.

  16. Culture

    Want an example of what is influencing our youth’s “culture”? You tube search “Big Hooch”. He is a rapper in Columbus who raps about beating women and countless other vulgar things. Among all of these songs, there is one called ‘discriminated’ where he is expressing his concerns about being discriminated against because he is black. Want to know why he is ACTUALLY discriminated against? I’ll give you a quote- “Beat a ho down, beat a ho down, beat her head into the wall until you hear a cracking sound.”

    He’s an example to these kids and what he is teaching them is that it is OKAY to behave badly as long as you call anyone that corrects you a racist.

  17. Jessica

    When I was growing up, my daddy monitored everything from who my friends were, did their parents have the same morals and values as we did, he didn’t allow me to listen to music that was a negative influence, he kept me in church every Sunday morning and Wednesday night, and he also beat my a** when I needed it…Back then you didn’t have to worry about DHS getting involved and he damn sure didn’t care if they did because he was the parent and it was his job to see to it I wasn’t raised to be like the kids are now. Back in the old days if you talked back to your mother or father, you’d get popped in the mouth. Now for whatever reason, parents are either scared of their own children or a lot of parents are too worried about partying and living their own life that they don’t have time to raise their kids. DHS is taking control and involved in too many cases where they need not be. Let the parents who want to raise their kids like my daddy did, have that opportunity and DHS should focus a lot more on all these sexual abuse cases instead of the ones where a parent left a small bruise or mark when the child got a spanking for acting and/or doing what our youth is doing now. Put prayer back in schools, use it more at home, and re-direct DHS’ focus to more important situations.

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