YOUNGSTOWN Speaker discusses issues plaguing city

She said communities need to ward off potential trouble by teaching young children.
YOUNGSTOWN -- A need for increased community involvement in the political scene, plus collaborative efforts to combat drugs and other social ills, were points made Saturday at a South Side neighborhood discussion.
The town hall-style talk was sponsored by the Mayor's Task Force on Crime and Violence Prevention with Henia Johnson, a post doctorate fellow at the University of Michigan's Substance Abuse Research Center, as the facilitator. Johnson will also speak at the Mayor's Task Force's annual banquet Monday and will be at Mount Calvary Pentecostal Church today.
Her own struggle: Johnson told the audience of her own sordid past -- a perspective that allows her to talk openly about solving some of today's pressing social concerns. Combating a drug addiction and having been convicted of various crimes in the 1970s and early '80s, Johnson straightened out her life and went on to receive a doctorate and to work in different aspects of state government.
Johnson has also been a social researcher and started various support groups for homicide victims' families and men and women who are in jail. She told Saturday's audience that Ohio now has 38 prisons where the black population is about 48 percent in a state where blacks make up about 11.5 percent of the population.
She emphasized that there is a large loss of resources when these individuals are sent away from cities and urban areas to mostly rural areas.
Education is key: According to Johnson, an effective means of curbing those numbers is through education and exercising the right to vote. She said education is important because once individuals can read and understand the political process, they can actively participate in the process through voting and electing effective government representatives.
It is by voting, she said, that blacks and other Americans across the racial divide can tell officials that more prisons are not the answer to all crime. She said sentencing measures that get to the root of an individual's problem can be more effective than long prison sentences.
Most importantly, she said, communities need to ward off potential trouble by properly teaching and preparing young children. She said teaching the children must start "from the womb" with the basics in right and wrong being clearly demonstrated through words and actions.
Church help: Substance abuse, said Johnson, is another problem that affects entire communities and should be dealt with on a communitywide basis. Building on the need for community support, she said the church can and should take an active role in helping members of the community who may be dealing with substance abuse themselves or in their families.
Johnson also spoke about some of the deteriorating neighborhoods in the Youngstown area and said this is another place where a strong voter base could alleviate some of the problems.
"The bottom line, Youngstown, is that you must get some strong leaders in this area that will help make this a more viable community again," she said.