Organization helps youth fight culture of gun violence

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - This latest shooting at Savannah High School adds one more to a disturbingly long list of recent shootings in Savannah involving children.

One, claiming the life of a six-year-old boy.

Whether in the wrong place at the wrong time, targeted or involved in what police frequently refer to as "risky behavior", one local outreach group wants these teens to know that there is a different path.

The Royal Ambassadors is made up of young men, teenagers, and they're focused on leading by positive example despite a litany of negative influences that can bombard them and their peers.

A month's worth of gun violence sent about a half-dozen teens to the hospital. The circumstances of each case vary, but it's a trend that hits home to several Royal Ambassadors on a very personal level.

"Really, it's kind of sad because you think what if that was your little brother or little sister," said Royal Ambassador member Kenny Passmore.

Passmore, and his younger brother Keith Bonaparte, both acknowledge the challenges and negative influences their age groups face, from drug use to underage drinking. And the things they've seen in their young lives can push them even deeper down that destructive path.

Just last year, Passmore's mentor in the program was murdered.

"It was hard, like, seeing a person that you know that didn't do nothing to nobody in a casket, you just break," said Passmore.

It's a tough battle to wage alone.

"Today, in life, you have a whole bunch of teenagers going down the wrong path. And with us, we've got that one percent of the kids out there trying to make everything better for the city," Bonaparte said.

"There're other things that these kids could be out here doing, but some of them might not be pointed in the right direction," said Royal Ambassadors member Bryan Harley.

The Royal Ambassadors focus on the positive things they can do for their peers, through volunteer work, mentoring, even dance.

"Blessed,'s just awesome," said Brenda Johnson-Curtis, with the Grant Community Center.

That's what Johnson-Curtis feels when she watches the teens' dance routine, an interpretive blend of hip-hop and gospel.

"People think that our children don't want to do the right thing. If you show a child some attention and love, you'd be surprised at what the outcome would be," said Johnson-Curtis.

"If you look around the community, you see other people doing the wrong stuff. But I ain't going to go down that path, I got my own lane that I travel on," said Passmore.

The Royal Ambassadors have been around now fifteen years, and in addition to sharing their gift of dance, also visit hospitals and hand out Christmas gifts to those in need around the holidays.

Savannah's new city manager admits he's already seen a big difference between his previous home in Broward County, Florida and our city when it comes to the violent crime problem.

He says it will be a tough issue to solve, despite the effort to put more police on the street.  Hernandez said unlike most communities in South Florida, Savannah has a long history of allowing the seeds of violent crime to grow.

"In Broward County specifically we did not have the compounding issue of generational poverty that unfortunately, creates the breeding ground or creates the environment for the criminal mindset or the criminal element to nurture and continue on almost unabated from generation to generation," said Hernandez.

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