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Lawton pastors organize group against gangs

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LAWTON Okla_ Local pastors have organized a pair of successful prayer walks in Lawton to raise awareness of the rising crime problem, and now they hope to launch a program called the Community Teen Coalition.

It originated in Atlanta. Its aim is giving at-risk teens and young adults a positive alternative to gang life. The program's creator presented details to the city at a town hall meeting Friday night.

Dominic Stokes said it's not only about getting youth to think more positively. It's getting them to act that way as well. He said Lawton's not alone when it comes to an increase in gang-related crime. He's said it's jumped significantly nationwide in the past three years.

Stokes said those in gangs are just looking in the wrong place for a way to express frustration or belonging.

"We have to show them how to channel that into a positive way; how to communicate with each other."

Stokes said since 2007, Community Teen Coalition has provided that in Atlanta for thousands of at-risk youth between the ages of 8 and 18. CTC gives them a positive outlet to use their skills in team building, decision-making and entrepreneurship, instead of in criminal activity.

"Even with youth that are involved in gangs," Stokes said, "They have the same mindset and business acumen as someone that owns their business. If a person is selling drugs, they're dealing with sales. They're dealing with distribution. They're marketing it. They have customers."

Lawton pastor Lennie Orrell, a former gang member, invited stokes to Lawton. He knows all too well how easy it is for youth to chose wrong over right these days.

"What I'm seeing down here is that they're pulling more to the wrong side, because of the job situation," Orrell said. "It's the situation where they don't want to see their family go hungry. They don't want to see their lights cut off."

Orrell said if things are going to change with gang involvement, the entire community will have to help.

"It's not an "I" thing. It's a "we" thing. I have a little saying: ‘Gangs are recruiting every three minutes'. If we recruit for positive every minute and a half, we're a step ahead of the game."

Stokes said as with any program, it takes the community and local businesses working together. He said he is going to lay out several ways the two can become one and hopefully fix some gang activity here in town.

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