COLUMBIA — As Lorenzo Lawson looked at recent violent crimes Columbia youth were committing, he saw a common theme: Many of the offenses he heard about in the news media, such as robbery, seemed to him to be economically motivated.
Lawson, founding director of the Youth Empowerment Zone, works to help youth find jobs and steer them away from crime when they're at the proverbial "fork in the road" in their lives.
"They don't want to go down the wrong path, but there's nothing in place to help them go down the right path," Lawson said. "So the Youth Empowerment Zone is that vehicle. Bottom line is (youth are) going to have to drive (themselves), but we're the vehicle."
The Youth Empowerment Zone's upcoming annual fundraiser, "Driving Youth to Success on the Nonviolent Street," is based on that metaphor. The name used to be "Driving Youth to Success," but Lawson said he wanted to emphasize nonviolence after seeing more violence among Columbia youth in the news media this year.
The fundraiser on Friday will raise money for the Youth Empowerment Zone, an organization that mentors youth as they develop job skills. Notable Columbia residents, such as the mayor, local politicians and educators, will pump gas at two Break Time gas stations while collecting donations. For every gallon of gas sold at those stations Friday, MFA Oil will donate 10 cents to the Youth Empowerment Zone.
The participating Break Time gas stations are at 110 E. Nifong Blvd. by Providence Road and 2101 W. Ash St. by Stadium Boulevard. Some Columbia residents will pump gas at the first location from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m., and others will pump gas at the second location from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m.
The annual fundraiser is always held at Break Time, but considering the anti-violence emphasis of the event, the location there has particular resonance this year. On Oct. 23, Aaron Hobson, a 22-year-old Kansas man whose cousin was an MU football player, was shot to death after being robbed outside the Break Time at 110 E. Nifong Blvd.
"It is something to really think about," Lawson said. "To me, that's one of the reasons why we're out there, because we are wanting to stop that type of behavior, that violent behavior and crime. It's a coincidence, but it is nevertheless significant."
Lawson said the funds will be used for general operations, such as paying rent and supporting job training programs. He said the first annual fundraiser at Break Time gas stations brought in about $20,000.
"The second year it was half that," Lawson said. "So as long as we can get that, $10,000, that would help tremendously. We need way more than that, but this will help."
Participating Columbia residents:
- Steve Calloway, MU pharmacist
- Nathan Stephens, director of Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center and co-founder of Youth Empowerment Zone
- Sean Spence, Missouri State Auditor's Office, Columbia Chamber of Commerce, the Boone County MU Alumni Association
- Mayor Bob McDavid
- Andre Thorn, MU Student Success Center
- Anne Williams, president of JobFinders Employment Services
- Mike Vangel, Vangel Associates Marketing Group
- Karen Mickey, Accelerated Wealth consultant
- Robert Olson, Reece & Nichols, Realtor
- John Gage, Reece & Nichols, broker/owner
- State Rep. Mary Still
- State Sen. Kurt Schaefer
- Denise Falco, Voices, Chamber of Commerce
- Brian Cunningham, Moresource Inc.
- Fred Schmidt, First Ward councilman
- Jennifer Turek, educator
- Paula Hopkins, interim city manager
- Joe Cregar, Harry C. Winfrey, CPA
- Konstantin Lyubimov, Salvation Anti-narcotic Center in Russia
- Verna Laboy, The Community Voice writer
- John McClure, coordinator of adult education and literacy at Douglass High School (The Career Center)
- Bill Costello, director, client relations, Woodruff Sweitzer
- Chris Belcher, superintendent of Columbia Public Schools