Members of the First Ward Ambassadors want to be known as mentors to youths in central Columbia. After tonight, however, they may be known more for their presence at a concert and celebrity basketball game.
The civic group that formed two months ago consists of African-American males who mentor youths at risk for dropping out of school, becoming fathers at an inappropriate time or facing unemployment.
As part of this mission, the Ambassadors are helping at a free hip-hop concert tonight at Douglass High School. Organizers said the event should provide a positive community outlet for local youths.
The show is expected to draw a large crowd, because it will feature prominent regional rappers such as LBG, Don Juan and Xtr-C.
The event also marks the Ambassadors’ first collaboration with the Columbia Police Department to ensure a safe event.
“We believe the city police officers are doing a great job in the First Ward, and the First Ward Ambassadors will support them in any way we can,” said Chief Ambassador Tracy Edwards.
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In the past, events at the gym have been disrupted by fights among youth. In order to avoid this, members of the group met with the Fourth Squad of the Columbia Police Department on Wednesday to discuss ways to prevent similar disturbances at tonight’s event. They expect the concert and basketball game to attract at least 200 youth, between the ages of 14 to 19 from across mid-Missouri.
Capt. Brad Nelson of the Columbia Police Department expressed concern that the event may become overcrowded and said he welcomes the opportunity to collaborate with a community-based group like the First Ward Ambassadors.
“The meeting is meant to address any concerns we have about this event and to ensure that everything goes smoothly,” Nelson said.
Nelson also added that concerns about overcrowding will not cause the police to treat this event any differently than an event at a local music or dance club.
The police department has no intention of counting the number of people who enter the gym, but they will address concerns if they arise in order to ensure the safety of everyone in attendance, he said.
“We want the same things,” said Nelson of the relationship with the First Ward Ambassadors.
Nathan Stephens, who is also a member of the First Ward Ambassadors, believes this cooperation and the fact that its members are visible figures in central Columbia will help decrease confrontations among young people at the event.
Stephens works for the Youth Empowerment Program, a non-profit organization under the Boone County Community Partnership that helps young adults from single-parent and low-income households get jobs.
“The police department has allowed us to some extent to police our own community when petty incidents are involved.” Stephens said. “We hope to continue to draw upon the police department’s knowledge, experience and training to ensure that these kids have a good time.”
Stephens said members of the group enjoy a sense of camaraderie with youths who live in the First Ward, because many of them grew up in the area and they hold their meetings at Douglass High School.
“Most of the time, if we ask these kids not to fight, they don’t,” Stephens said. “It’s different coming from someone they know, because they know we have their best interests at heart.”