PORTSMOUTH, Va. – During Brunch Club meetings, straight talk is encouraged.
Topics range from sports to heavier things like gun violence and gangs.
The program is a new partnership between the Portsmouth Sheriff’s Office and the anti-gun violence group, Big H.O.M.I.E.S Community Outreach Program. They reach students at school.
Tuesday, the Brunch Club sat down with 13- and 14-year-old students from William E. Waters Middle School.
“They said they needed me for a minute. That always means somebody in trouble,” said 7th grade student Jayden Hill.
But the teens weren’t in trouble. They were there to find ways to stay out of it and not turn to the gun violence they hear about virtually every day.
“Everything is not about retaliation,” said Xyon Parks, 13. “If you can’t handle yourself, you have to tell somebody.”
All but one of the teens in the group said they lost someone to a senseless shooting.
“I lost two or three homeboys,” said 14-year-old Na’eem Reaves.
Reaves said Majae was like a brother to him. He said he was shot and killed eight months ago. Majae was only 14 years old.
The Brunch Club helps them open up, talk about problems they might be facing and learn to trust.
Leah Antoinette Stith, the D.A.R.E. Director with the Portsmouth Sheriff’s Office, said it’s about building relationships.
“You got to get to know them,” she said. “You got to get them to respect you. You have to let them know you respect them, their decisions, right or wrong.”
Big H.O.M.I.E.S President Eugene Swinson said they also get them interested in a career and extracurricular activities while also having fun with them.
“The other part is just trying to engage these kids in their environment,” he said. “That’s part of why we go to the neighborhoods.”
The program also helps teens see their worth and reach their goals.
“What I learned is, don’t be follower, just be your own self; be a leader,” said Reaves.
Seventh grade student Xyon Parks said he already feels more confident in pursuing his dreams of becoming a drum player or making it to the pros on the basketball court.
“It helped me pick up myself because people used to talk bad about me and it used to get in my head, so I had gave up on myself until I had realized that you had to keep going no matter what,” said the 13-year-old.
Tuesday’s visit was the second time the Brunch Club came to Waters Middle School.
Big H.O.M.I.E.S and the Portsmouth Sheriff’s Office have been going to Cradock Middle School for about a month now and say they’ve noticed a big difference in the group of kids they’ve been speaking with.
Both Stith and Swinson said the teens are able to express themselves more and look forward to their visits.
They want to expand the Brunch Club program to other middle schools and even high schools.