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Local agency helps troubled teens turn their lives around

The Metamorphoses program relies on the power of communication to help participants learn there are alternatives to life behind bars and that they can embrace a real chance for a successful future. by Amy Rosenberg
Special to the Tri-State Defender

The Metamorphoses program doesn’t boast a gimmick strategy or any sort of complex multi-phase process. Instead, the power of communication is relied upon to help participants learn there are alternatives to life behind bars and that they can embrace a real chance for a successful future.

James Robinson, Metamorphoses founder, listening to group members. (Courtesy photos)
The common denominator in all of Metamorphoses’ cases is anger. Anger is toxic. It can taint relationships and ruin friendships. Anger is unpredictable and can make people do things they’d never imagine doing. It can even be deadly.

Yet, what the dozen or so teenagers sitting in a Metamorphoses meeting room inside Ridgeway Assembly of God Church are finding out together is that anger can be tamed with proper handling. Anger has already damaged aspects of each young man’s past.

One of the teens is Shane Smith, a 16 year old with a dream of becoming an automotive engineer and designing cars. That dream was nearly derailed before it ever got off the ground because of the life he was leading on the street. Many of the participants in the room are gang members. Outside the walls of the church, they represent rival gangs. Inside the circle, they are merely a group of teens talking through their problems together.

Smith admits his poor choices and negative behavior have been driven by anger – anger fueled by his desire for more attention from his father, who never attended his basketball games. He reacted as many frustrated teenagers do, by acting out for attention. Except, turning to the streets didn’t get him the attention he craved, but rather it landed him in a Juvenile Court room.

Like all Metamorphoses participants, Smith’s run-in with the law was followed by a Juvenile Court judge’s mandate to attend an anger management program – one more chance to turn things around. Metamorphoses is providing that opportunity. It offers structured support in a group setting to help young men work through anger issues using various forms of communication, such as interactive journaling, role play and free-flowing discussion.

Shane Smith, 16, says his greatest achievement is knowing his father and grandmother are proud of him.

Darious Currie, 16, says he’s turned his life around after learning how to manage his anger.

Alijah Williams, 16, finally feeling free to be himself after six months with Metamorphoses.

Founder James Robinson works a day job as a manager at Chuck Hutton Toyota to fund his dream of helping at-risk teens. Robinson grew up angry and unable to deal with his feelings in a positive way, which led him to trouble. It wasn’t until he learned to fully express his thoughts, as well as his pain, that he became able to manage his angst and focus on his goals. Robinson’s personal turnaround impassioned him to reach out to young men in his community who were just as vulnerable as he once was and lead them toward success through self-discovery.

“I figured we had to help these young men find a way to answer the question, ‘Why do we do the things we say we won’t do?,’” Robinson said. “Honesty is the foundation of change, and if we can get them to be honest with themselves about why they are angry, then we can move forward.”

The last stop before jail

Most Metamorphoses participants come from single parent homes. All have been arrested, and the majority have been kicked out of one or more high schools. Poverty, gangs and other serious stressors stand in their way.

The program is designed to serve up to three groups of about 25 young men for a four-to-six month period. Upon successful completion, the young men are assessed weekly and then tracked over a three-year period. With a 75-percent success rate so far, the waiting list alone is proof that the Juvenile Court system believes in the power of Metamorphoses.

Understanding that children cannot succeed solely on their own, Robinson has strengthened the program recently with the introduction of a simultaneous parenting class.

“We teach skills, like how to effectively communicate and also about the criminal lifestyle and how it effects the family matrix, how they play a role in hurting every member of their families with their criminal activities and their anger,” Robinson explained.

Now halfway through the Metamorphoses program, Smith swears by it. He is able to articulate his feelings and understands that it’s okay to talk about them.

“It changed me. I had problems respecting authority,” Smith shared. “People would tell me to do things, and I didn’t want to do it. But I learned that I had to do those things to gain respect. Without that respect, people treat you wrong.

Darious Currie was seated two chairs away from Smith at a recent Metamorphoses meeting. Currie, 16, has been kicked out of Cordova High School for disciplinary issues.

“When I get angry, I do stupid stuff,” Currie admitted. “It was my anger and my attitude that got me kicked out of Cordova High School. I just didn’t want to listen.”

Now enrolled in his third different high school, Currie believes things will work out differently than they have in the past.

“Six months ago before this program, I’d get so angry over little calls on the (basketball) court,” Currie said. “But today, (if) the ref makes a call I don’t like, when I would have gotten a few words in… now, I might think about what I would say. I just take a deep breath and move on.”

With restored focus and confidence, along with some impressive ACT scores, Currie said he is on track to attend Louisiana State University after graduation. Once an unthinkable goal, his newfound ability to talk through frustration and deal with anger has suddenly made this pursuit a very realistic possibility.

“I’ve really changed. It means a lot to me,” Currie said.

Currie’s experience is a common one, according to Robinson, who says the realization that Metamorphoses is the last stop before jail is what makes young men wise up to the task of taking responsibility for their own lives.

Like the others in the program, Alijah Williams did not ask to be a part of it. He had no choice. As the weeks passed, he grew along with other group members who reflect a great sense of pride that comes from knowing the men they one day hope to become are becoming much easier to believe in.

“Six months ago, I was a fighter. I was disrespectful, and I had no respect for authority,” said Williams.

“But today, I make people look at me differently because I have respect for myself.”

(To find out more about Metamorphoses, visit www.metamorphosesinc.org.)

(Metamorphoses, Inc., will host a Basketball to Business Summit on August 20 to help young men in Memphis learn that sports aren’t their only ticket to a successful future! The keynote speaker will be TV’s Judge Greg Mathis. To learn more, visit www.bbsummitmemphis.com.)

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