On a Friday afternoon, community activists and young girls stand in a circle in a driveway of a home in the Preston Hollow neighborhood in St. Rose.
Preston Hollow is a six-block neighborhood where three of the parishís last four murders have occurred.
The home they are standing in front of is the residence of Anthony "Tyrone" Straughter, the president of the Dr. K Movement.
Dr. K stands for Dr. Knowledge and was formed about a year ago to help convicted felons transition back into society after serving jail terms. Another goal of the movement is to provide positive activities to engage local children.
The organization has held two essay contests for local children since their inception and both have culminated with a pizza party where t-shirts and gift cards were given to participants.
Straughter brainstorms with the four young girls present about his organizationís next project.
"So thatís what we are going to go with. We are going to go with design a shirt?" he said.
T-shirts are a large part of the organizationís efforts to get positive messages out to the community.
Dr. K Movement Spokesman Miguel Thornton points to his own t-shirt which reads "This is My Gun" and depicts various professionals in uniforms.
He tells the girls about what it means.
"Most people see it and the first thing they say is Ďthis is my gun? What is he talking about?í" Thornton said. "But as they come in and study and see that this gentleman has got his cap and gown on and heís graduating. He is representing. Weíve got a doctor here, a police officer, someone else looking at an open book learning something and then Dr. K himself is standing in the middle. Heís pointing to his head and his mind saying this is my gun, this is the weapon that I use."
The 32-year-old Thornton knows firsthand the dangers of using a weapon in the traditional sense.
Despite coming from a good home and excelling in school, Thornton took the wrong path and found himself sentenced to an eight-year jail term at the age of 19 for armed robbery and carjacking.
"Thatís a snapshot. Thatís just a snippet of so many other things but that is what sent me to prison," he said.
Thornton said he was determined to change his life once he entered prison.
"During prison time I made up my mind since day one to prepare for transition. To prepare for the better and so once I was released that is what I began to do," he said.
Now five years later and without getting into further trouble, Thornton has turned his attention back to the community.
"We want to reach out to the felons and let them know you can do better, you can live a life that is productive. You can live a life that is crime free that is drama free," he said. "But it first starts with you, it does not start with you grabbing resources from everyone else and anyone else, you have to start with you."
Aneika Smith, secretary for the Dr. K Movement, said the groupís goal is to not only give hope to those who have made wrong decisions in the past, but to also help them influence their communities to make positive decisions and stay away from street life.
"The street life is portrayed as cool by the adults and that is why we are trying to reach out to the adults," Smith said.
Straughter, also an ex-convict who served nearly four years in jail for selling marijuana, said he hopes to give hope to other ex-convicts who want to stay away from the street life.
"We are not animals. Even though some people chose the wrong route it didnít mean that we didnít have any morals or that we didnít know any better," he said. "It was just something that we chose to do."
Straughter said he takes it upon himself to speak to people in the community and tries help who he can.
In doing so he has recently helped place two men in vocational programs. One is attending welding school and the other is on his way to becoming a truck driver.
"Both of them are ex-felons. We go in where the fire is. We are not going to sit around," he said.
Despite the recent murders, Straughter stresses that they were isolated incidents and that he feels the neighborhood has been unfairly labeled as dangerous.
"Iím not saying it to sugar coat anything because we do have crime but this neighborhood is not bad like that," he said.
Straughter said violence is a problem in a lot of different places and it is their hope to raise awareness throughout the entire River Parishes region.
"The murders did happen and more murders are happening in St. John Parish," he said.
In an attempt to help educate more residents who may get started down the wrong path, the Dr. K Movement is holding their first annual "River Parish Stop the Violence Summit."
The event will take place on Saturday, May 25 from 1-4 p.m. at the American Legion Hall at 424 Clayton St. in Norco and will include motivational speakers, musical acts as well as concessions and raffles.
Straughter said the Dr. K Movement strives to be a positive force in the community and in the lives of individuals and that the summit is just one way of reaching out.
"Thatís our goal. Be better fathers, be better husbands. We have to instill that is takes a village and Dr. K is part of the village," he said.
Thornton said it is the responsibility of people like Straughter and himself to educate others.
"We know that on many occasions the only person children are going to respond to is someone who has walked a certain path and so thatís is what we want to do," he said.
|Anthony Straughter (center) talks about the Dr. K Movement with teens.|