CBS Philly celebrates Black History Month with these profiles of notable Philadelphia-area “gamechangers,” people and organizations making a difference in the lives of the city’s African-Americans.
By Cherri Gregg
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Darren Laws spent 21 years working in the Delaware County courts, and soon tired of seeing youth of all races getting caught in the criminal justice system.
“A lot of the kids see [the courts] as a game,” says Laws (at left in top photo). “And it doesn’t hit them until they’ve been in prison for six or seven years that, hey, this is not a game.”
Three years ago, he started The Mission, a nonprofit organization dedicated to saving young people in Chester.
Since then, he and more than a dozen mentors have spent time with more than 300 young people from the Delaware Valley, taking them to movies, on trips, and creating workshops that show youth there are options other than prison.
They work with parents and teens, teaching conflict resolution and other life skills.
“All of us were from the streets, so they can identify what we’re saying and they can respect us,” says Laws, who provides a real-world example of how to build a positive life. “I tell them the same thing that’s happening with me — you know, going to school, doing positive things — can happen with you guys.”
Isam Keith Smith (at right in top photo) is vice president of the nonprofit and serves as a mentor. In 2010, Gov. Ed Rendell commuted the life sentence of three men; Smith was lucky enough to be one of them.
“When I came out in March 2011, two weeks later I went to the Boys and Girls Club in Chester,” says Smith, who mentored youth while he was in prison. “I spoke for about 20 to 25 minutes. Then, when I met him,” he says, pointing at Laws,” we just clicked. And we’ve been working together ever since.”
Smith, who spent more than 30 years behind bars, says his life gives kids reason to get on the right path.
“I tell them, if you don’t, you’re going to end up like me,” he says, “being the lookout man, doing all this time, and then wondering why you’re sitting in there.”
The Mission’s reach extends beyond Chester. Smith says The Mission has built relationships with the Philadelphia mayor’s office and the Philadelphia Police Department.
Laws says he was invited to speak at the White House, and President Obama honored him with the Community Person of the Year award.
The Mission transforms lives by caring…
“”Just letting them know that there are some good things that can come out of life if you try really hard,” says Laws. “And just letting them know we love them, that we care.”
Listen to the extended CBS Philly interview about “The Mission” (runs 7:35)…