Toshiba Foster and other moms in Morristown are determined not to let this summer repeat itself.
The teen-aged cousin of one mom committed suicide. Two other local teens attempted to do the same, Toshiba said. And Nigel Dumas, 19, of Morristown, was charged in connection with the fatal beating of a Salvadoran immigrant in Summit.
On Oct. 2, Toshiba is helping to present “Our Youth, Their Future,” an afternoon of food and music at the Cauldwell Playground. It’s intended as a fun day with a serious message.
“We wanted to show the youth in our community that there are other avenues they can take. They don’t have to end in violence and suicide,” she said.
The rally will run from noon to 6 pm and is expected to include a basketball tournament, music from Morristown’s Union and Calvary Baptist churches, and information tables staffed by Morristown Memorial Hospital, Family Service of Morris County, the Morris County Traumatic Loss Coalition and NewBridge Services. The Morris County Prosecutor’s Office also has been invited.
Organizers of “Our Youth, Their Future” hope the rally will become an annual occurrence, and serve as a springboard for monthly events for teens across town.
“We’re not just talking about African-Americans. This is for the whole, entire community,” said Dorothy Holman, Toshiba’s mother. “We don’t want kids on the corner smoking blunts or selling drugs or joining gangs. We want to get them away from that.”
“They need something to do. We want to talk with them and give them positive things to do,” said Malissa Osborne-Hairston, another mom involved in the planning.
As she gave her interview at the park, around suppertime one night this week, several teen-aged boys were hanging out. She handed them flyers to distribute for next month’s rally, and peppered them with reminders to come up with suggestions for teen activities.
The playground is a short walk from the Morristown Neighborhood House, which offers many programs for youths from disadvantaged backgrounds. The “Our Youth” organizers said some single parents cannot afford the fees there, however.
“It used to be a place where you could go without having to worry about having a membership,” said Acquanetta King.
Sharon Rudolph, a mother of two children, ages 12 and 4, said she hopes the rally will inspire kids and adults to create a series of movie nights, pizza nights and other outings. She said the Manahan Village neighborhood was shaken by the summer tragedies that included the suicide of a teen who was a former Morristown resident.
The rally idea took shape at an August event called “Kids on Top.” A key figure was the Rev. Alfonso Sherald, pastor of the Bethel AME Church and a strong advocate for area kids. Sadly, the Rev. Sherald passed away this month.
Morristown Mayor Tim Dougherty memorialized the pastor at this week’s town council meeting. He praised the ladies’ “Our Youth” effort and pledged to support it.
“These women may reach people who don’t get reached,” the Mayor said. “We’ve got to make sure kids of all ages have activities, and people they can talk to.”
Although nothing is on the drawing board at the moment, the Mayor said he would love to see a community recreation center in town.
Earlier generations of kids probably had an easier time entertaining themselves, he said, because face-to-face interaction was more the norm. Now, in a world of mobile internet, temptation arrives in an endless digital stream.
“It’s definitely a different world,” the Mayor said. “Kids just text. They don’t talk. We really need to get out there and work with our youths. . . If we don’t keep our youths engaged and active, we can lose some youths.”
“Our Youth, Their Future” seeks donations of food, paper goods and money for Oct. 2. For details on how to get involved, contact email@example.com or check out the event’s Facebook page.