NASHVILLE, TN – Inside a modest church on Monroe St. in North Nashville Derrick Strode is talking with Jericho Butler about the indifferent face he presents to the world.

“That’s not necessarily bad,” Strode tells him. Thus begins the fifth session of a 12-week program to help young men figure things out before it’s too late. This week’s topic is “Choices”.

“We are a youth diversion program that is geared towards steering young men in a different direction, trying to keep the recidivism down, giving them opportunities to excel in areas they have been lacking in, and also helping them with situations that they haven’t been able to cope with,” said Bishop Marcus Campbell.

Campbell started a violence intervention program ten years ago called Gentlemen And Not Gangsters (GANG). During that time, somewhere between 300-400 teenage boys have been through the program.

Some young offenders come to the Mount Carmel Missionary Baptist Church by court order as part of their probation. Others are walk-ins. When they arrive the first week, there is a casket in the front of the church with nametags inside.

“They have to come in and pull their names out of the casket and that symbolizes that they’re saying from that night forward they not going to end up in the casket,” Campbell said.

The session topics include character, change, competition, confession, choices, community, money, conflict of interest, and trauma.

Nashville’s Juvenile Court was the first in the country to create a special court for violent young offenders. It’s called Gang Resistance Intervention Prevention (GRIP) court. “It’s tailored just for them along with a program that has ex-gang members who been to prison to work with them and that’s my program,” Campbell said.

“Day one we ask them ‘what are your goals in life?’ A lot of them say ‘I only want to live to see 21 or I want to live to see 16’ and we want to change that goal,” he said.

If they finish the program, they get a new suit, shirt, tie, and belt. Afterwards some of the graduates join the military. Others go to college. after a field trip to TSU, Chivas Jordan-Douglas changed his goals.  He hopes to get a culinary degree there one day.

Jordan-Douglas went thru the program five years ago when he was 15. He’s been close to the Campbell family ever since. For the past five summers, he’s helped them with the summer camp the church runs for younger kids.

“I help other young men trying to get on the right path, too. “ he said.

After he finished the program he got a lot of pushback because he stopped doing the things his old gang friends were still doing. They said he’d changed. They didn’t like it.

“You can sit here and be mad at me but I’m not going to be mad at you back because what I’m doing is right for me,” he told them.

On the other hand, a lot of people liked the way he changed. “They’re seeing the new me. They’re seeing that I wouldn’t end up dead out there or in jail no more because the stuff I was doing wasn’t going to lead me to jail. It was going to leave me dead,” Jordan-Douglas said.

After they finish, Campbell said they stay in touch with the graduates to make sure they are still on the right track. “We make school visits, home visits. If something is going on at home we have a conversation with the kids to make sure they’re respecting their parents. And we also do court visits with them to be in support if they’re on the right track,” Campbell said.

Two years ago, Campbell got a $35,000 reimbursement grant and was able to repay Chuck McDowell of Wesley Financial. McDowell has been supporting Campbell’s summer camp for years. (see Timeshares)

“I wish I had more people like him who has the heart that he does to be there for the community and especially the youth,” Campbell said.