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Cruz Bay
Tuesday, March 5, 2024


Jan. 19, 2002 — "I am a worthwhile person, and so are you."
With these words, Assistant U.S. Attorney Azekah Jennings opened his presentation Friday night on "Crime Prevention and Building Youth Resiliency Through Sports."
Then he told the group of about 30 — half adults, half young people — to say the words to the person next to them. "Say it every day to someone," he continued. "Say it to yourself in the mirror."
Speaking in the Holiday Inn Windward Passage Hotel at a public meeting hosted by the St. Thomas Youth Soccer Association, Jennings urged the young people and their parents to stay focused on positive things. "We constantly hear negative messages," he said.
His theme was that "there are choices that we make, and the choices we make make us." Young people especially, he said, tend to do things to their outward appearance that make them feel better about themselves — their choice of clothes and shoes, hairstyle and nails. But more important, he said, "We must start looking from within."
Jennings, who is active in V.I. Bar Association and the National Black Prosecutors Association, has been a prime mover in the weekend summer retreats that have been held for the last four summers on St. John for families of youth at risk in the territory.
He spoke Friday night about some of the cases involving young people that he has prosecuted. One was a 1996 St. Croix carjacking involving three young people. All three were found guilty of committing three incidents. There are no federal prisons in the territory, he pointed out. "I have seen very big men cry because now the game is over; they are going to jail," he said. And, he added, "Unlike the state offenses, if you commit and are convicted of a federal offense, there is no parole."
He then showed his audience the number 14 said that it is a magic number. It's the youngest age, he explained, at which a person could be charged with a crime as an adult in the Virgin Islands.
Jennings, who said later that such presentations are an important means of law enforcement, told his listeners, "We have to be conscious of the conditions and situations that we are in." He spoke of the influence of television, music and the Internet in molding young people's minds and lives. "All of our kids, rich and poor, are at risk," he said.
To limit this risk, he said, parents need to play a very active role in their children's lives. "Be there for them and with them," he said. "Go to their school, not just when they expect you there — i.e., report card day — but show up unexpectedly."
He then recounted the time his mother surprised him at school — and caught him cutting class. It's a prime example, he said, of why parents should practice that technique. "We need to teach children how to be responsible," he said.
The importance of sports in the development of young people is paramount, he said: "Soccer and sports are team activities. Sports develop your life skills."
Further, sports allow children to interact with other children of different races, nationalities and backgrounds, he noted. "The mix is a good thing," he said. "This is what they have to deal with in their adult life. It will give them the avenue to express and develop themselves."
Toward the end of his presentation, Jennings cited an African proverb: "The ruins of a nation begins in the homes of its people." He then spoke of the need to discipline children and of ways to do so effectively.
"Don't be afraid to discipline a child," he stated, making clear that discipline must not be abusive and advocating the "take-away" technique — punishing youngsters by not allowing them to have or do something they want.
Children want limits and they will test their elders, he said, while at the same time resenting their parents' discipline — until they grow old enough to understand the dynamics of what was happening. Sometimes, he said, parents can even get input from their youngsters on the type on punishment they should receive. Often, he said, children will be more strict on themselves than their parents would have been.
The St. Thomas Youth Soccer Association competes at the Peacemakers Youth Soccer Club. Stephen Brush, an attorney in private practice on St. Thomas who is involved in the Peacemakers program, arranged for Jennings to make his presentation.
Tanya Benjamin, Peacemakers spokesperson, said the group will continue to present initiatives such as Friday evening's program and to continue running youth sports programs throughout the islands.

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