LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18 — There have been 25 homicides in Lexington in 2022 so far, but crime data shows gun violence among young people has declined. The city's anti-violence initiative credits community organizations, teachers, and mentors.
The coaches of the 'Lexington Ravens Youth Organization' are tough, but they say it's because they see their players as kids of their own. Coach Terry Hicks started the group nine years ago along with a few other dads. Over the years, they've evolved into more than just a football team.
"That's what we're about, making a family atmosphere," said Hicks.
All the coaches are volunteers, who dedicate their time to show up for the students on and off the field. They check on students at their schools and do home visits and conflict mediation.
"Yes, I'm sitting in class," said Hicks. "Parents reach out to us, you know what I mean, and make sure that we know what's going on with those kids because they know how much the kids look up to us."
They try to instill life lessons in the kids that they may not otherwise learn. Hicks says a good number of them experience situations no kid should have to.
"We're dealing with some kids that have been victims of gun violence, whether they witnessed the murder, was shot, or you know, they might be dealing with a parent that's incarcerated," said Hicks.
The coaches have sat in counseling sessions and comforted kids when needed as well.
They lost 10-year-old Landon Hayes in February. The elementary school student loved football. He was shot and killed in a murder-suicide.
"It hurts, it hurts," said Hicks. "So much has changed. In just the ninth year of our organization, so much has changed from beginning to now. The things that these kids are dealing with, they wouldn't deal with nine years."
Hicks says the practice has become like therapy for some. During the two hours that they are at practice, they're just kids having fun. The coaches have made that their mission to keep them busy, off the streets, and out of trouble.
"At this young age, they'll stick with it, it just becomes a part of them," said Hicks. "We're gonna make sure that these boys know so that when they come up, you know, and they are of age or somebody's trying to put a gun in their hand or trying to put drugs in their hand. They know, you know, that's not what I do."
There are many community organizations in Lexington that have taken that same approach, and the city believes it's worked to reduce youth and young adult gun violence.
"Everybody intentionally focusing on our youth, is the reason that we're seeing the numbers drop on youth and young adults. Everybody from Parks and Rec to the coaches to the teachers to school has a nice structure that they operate in and when we're all working together," said Devine Carama, Director of One Lexington.
In 2019, 57 % of gun-related homicides were between the ages of 13 and 29, two were younger. The city noticed the trend year after year and tasked One Lexington with focusing on addressing it.
The initiative uses government resources and community partnerships to reduce gun violence impacting youth and young adults.
Now, in 2022, 30% of the homicides were in that age group.
"We were tired of losing young people, juveniles getting shot and killed in the street, young adults before they're 18th, even 21st birthday, and I think it just resonated with people especially coming out of pandemic, and everybody's just kind of come together as a village and really focused on that demo," said Carama.
From 2019-2022, 201 juveniles faced charges for crimes involving firearms, according to court data obtained by LEX 18. However, Judge Lindsey Thurston says she's seen progress and believes mentoring and community organizations are a big reason.
"What we've seen in our courts is our mentoring programs through the city, youth OMAC- operation making a change, they are helping us sort of change this mentality," said Thurston. "We have a lot of good folks that are running these programs, and they are sort of shifting the young folk's focus and getting them more involved in community activities, helping them with their studies."
It's work that's been nine years in the making for the leaders of the Lexington Ravens. This year their first class of players graduates high school. All four of them received scholarships to play in college.
As a non-profit organization, many of the kids with the Lexington Ravens organization play for free. But they say help is needed to continue doing the work in the community.
Hicks says they need help through donations and volunteers. He says this year they received $100 from each council district, totaling $1,200. However, it's a lot less than the need. Their trip last weekend to an out-of-state tournament totaled over $600 for food, hotel rooms, and gas. They are also looking for a grant writer.