Saturday afternoon as I took photos of the trophy presentation for the AA Championship Boys Basketball Team. it was a fun time to be a reporter. That group of nine seniors and their teammates had a once-in-a-career kind of talent and they made the most of it.
But as I took that photo, more than championships came to mind.
Immediately after I took pictures of the teens making number one gestures with the trophy, I did a double check in the camera window.
Then, I exhaled and went on shooting photos before hustling to file a story on deadline.
Why the exhale? Because we (newspaper folks in general) have to be aware of everything going on in our community and, unfortunately, that can mean some of the big city stuff makes its way here. Like the flashing of gang signs.
The Newberry Observer recently was emailed some photos of various age groups, photos of basketball players celebrating after their season’s end. My boss, after looking closely at the photos, make a decision to only run one of the photos. Why? Because it was likely some of the youth in the other photos were flashing gang signs.
I guess folks flash them up to be cool. Maybe they are actually in gangs or maybe they are wannabe gangbangers. Either way, photos that should be wholesome enough to be family content are having to be checked for gang signs.
The hand signs change quickly but we do our best to stay up with them.
In fact, I learned more about it while I was with our sister paper in Fairfield County for a year and a half, prior to coming back to The Observer on Feb. 1.
While there I attended a citizens academy run by the Fairfield County Sheriff’s Office.
One night the class was about school resource officers and the challenges they have to keep young people from joining gangs as they look for acceptance, belonging, power and, in some cases, protection.
I learned about “stacking” a series of hand gestures and moves that gang members learn as a calling card for that particular gang. Drugs and organized crime coincided with gangs, too.
Gangs are a problem in the Palmetto State and Fairfield and Newberry counties have that issue as well although law enforcement has programs in place to help steer young people away from gang activity.
The presence can creep into our lives when we least expect it, as it did Tuesday when I saw graffiti while on my lunch break.
That gang graffiti was impetus for this column, in fact.
I didn’t want to write the column when the idea came to mind. I mean, why equate such a positive event for the county as a state championship with gangs?
Two reasons. One, we want to show local athletic team pictures in the paper, so this was a way to ask folks to refrain from making the signs in photos that will be submitted for consideration for publication.
The other was to show how positive influence in structured environments, such as high school or the YMCA, can have an impact on young people by giving them that sense of belonging and worth so they invest in themselves, their future and the area’s future instead of turning to gangs to find those things.
In interviews leading up to the state championship game I talked with players who aspired to be engineers and physical therapists, who had parents active in their lives, who volunteered in the community.
That’s quite the contrast to roads they could have chosen and speaks to the adults who help guide them along their way.
So, congratulations to the Newberry High School Bulldogs on a state championship and on the example your actions are setting for this community.
Kevin Boozer is a staff writer for The Newberry Observer and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Views expressed in this column are those of the writer only and do not represent the newspaper’s opinion.