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Peace club gives back to community

By Greg Gelpi

Just as everyone in a community is touched by violence, everyone in a community can be touched by positive works, one group of students is demonstrating.

Youth at Pointe South Middle School are refusing to sit back and be victims of violence.

More than 50 students formed the Pointe South Peace Club. The club functions as a support group to cope with the violence, as well as an activist group for the students to bring about change in their community.

"Something has got to change, and we're going to make that change," eighth-grader Amber Thompson said.

Part of their efforts to curb violence involves reaching out to the community. The group collected more than 100 toys, which the students wrapped and gave to the Clayton County Division of Family and Children Services.

"We are blessed and fortunate," Valerie Hamilton, a teacher at Pointe South and the club's organizer, said. "Sometimes you have to give back."

Hamilton started a similar group in Boston, where she taught for about 12 years. Since coming to Clayton County, she has noticed an increase in violence.

"If they don't get a handle on it now, then it will be a national incident," she said. "There needs to be a public outcry."

Hamilton started the club in November and has already been asked to bring the club and club events to other Clayton County schools, she said.

"If we can stop a war in Iraq, then we can get the handguns off the streets," Hamilton said. "It's like everyone is getting armed. When is it going to stop?"

Most of the students in the club know someone personally who has been involved in violence, including many who knew Lazaro Columbie. Columbie was shot and killed by a man defending himself in Independence Park earlier this month.

"My brother doesn't really cry a lot, but that was his friend," Thompson said. "It's sort of scaring us n people just shooting in the park."

Edward Johnson, a young rapper, was to perform with Columbie at a skating rink before he was killed.

"Everybody was sad. Everybody misses him," Johnson said.

The Youth Peace Club held a memorial service for Devon Gates two weeks after Gates was killed.

"With the success of this event, it is my goal to bring the peace day event to other schools in Clayton County and to motivate students to strive for peace and nonviolence as we are the dream of Martin Luther King," Hamilton said.

Devon Gates, 19, was shot and killed Oct. 26 while at a birthday party in Forest Park.

Police investigators allege that the killing was related to gang activity. Threats of gang violence prompted security to be tightened at two county high schools following the shooting, the cancellation of Morrow High School's homecoming parade and a gang violence forum at Forest Park High School.

Vap Chhoum is charged with murder in connection with the death.