Thursday, February 3, 2011

SHUMAN WORKER shows the way: Ron Saunders experiments a lot to find a way.His goal is to save youthful offenders from themselves, to give them direction.

The Ronald B.Saunders Project
The Saunders Family Archives
Branchton PA
February 2, 2011

The following article titled "Shuman Worker shows the way" appeared in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette on January 16, 1994, and was written by the highly distinguished PG reporter Jean Bryant.


By Jean Bryant
Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Ron Saunders of Wilkins is a civil rights activist, husband, father, youth advocate and poet.
     But he says the most challenging role in his life is that of youth care worker at Shuman Juvenile Detention Center in East Liberty. Saunders works in Unit K at Shuman, an honor unit for youths whose good behavior, has earned them certain privileges.
  "A lot of people have given up on these kids," says Saunders. "But I haven't I see their worth as human beings. I believe they can overcome their past, regardless of what they've done.
  "It hurts to see young people-whether they be black or white-in trouble. In many cases they are coming from dysfunctional families. And I use all the skills I've learned down through the years trying to turn them in the right direction."
    Saunders' poetry reveals the pain he feels over the violence that brings many youths to Shuman.


    Here I am sittin in my crib with my homies;
   Seeing young bucks killing each other every day,
   Can't understand why we as adults;
   Haven't shown them how to resolve their conflict
   in a more constructive way.

  These young bucks are strapped
  from head to toe,
  but soon they will learn a
 very difficult lesson, you shall
  reap what you shall sow.

 Their mothers, fathers, sisters and
 brothers are dying
Babies weep at night over the
sound of gunfire, and some are
still crying.

   I see a young buck in a car creeping,
   Slowly down the street with the window rolled down
   And his hand on the Trigga,
  Shots are fired, a young Blood shouts
  " I just capped another Crip Nigga."

   Pretty soon there won't be many young bucks left
   Brothers and Sisters are getting locked up
   For all kinds of heinous crimes and even petty auto theft

  Cuz these young bucks are robbin from the poor,
  I say extinction of our race is what we are headed for.
  The young bucks shout, "they don't care,"
  And they're headed down the path of destruction
  That leads to nowhere.

  These young bucks have no respect
  For themsleves or each other,
 When we were growing up we were taugth
 To love one another,
 And anybody who was down with it
 Could be our brother.

 Drive by shootings in our community
 Have created a lot of turmoil, fear, confusion and fuss
 But we must still tell the young bucks
 That these drive by shootings just simply ain't us.

When will these drive by shootings stop
Only when we adults persuade our young bucks
To refrain from being addicted to
certain types of negative rap and hip hop.

That great American dream has  been
Deferred for so long,
Communities are still erupting and exploding
As young bucks continue to go wrong.

Some of the young bucks are trying to be just like
The movie characters, Nino Brown, and Dough Boy
 Instead of making a positive contribution,
To our society like Barbara Jordan,
 Ida Wells Barnett, and Elijah McCoy.

 Teach the young bucks to do more positive things
 Other than to say it loud,
 We have to lead, guide, direct, instruct,
 The young bucks to become truly Black and proud.

 Cuz check this out!
 What is needed in the Black communities
  Is a massive spiritual revolution
  Yo' we should all know,
  That's really the only solution.

" I see their worth as human beings.
  I believe they can over come their past, regardless of what they've done."
     - Ron Saunders, Youth Care Worker.
   To get them on the path to somewhere, Saunders sees that the youth in his charge get plenty of recreational activity, and are involved in character-building programs.
  "We teach life skills,-how to properly mop the floor, comb your hair, brush your teeth, teach them to write-grammar, punctuation, uplifting things," Saunders explains.
To sharpen their minds and aptitude, Saunders devises his own trivia games for them.
For example, he has a world map pinned to a wall in the Unit K dorm. At various times, Saunders calls out locations and challenges the youth to find them on the map. Other games include sports, American history, World history, and black history trivia.
  Saunders works with Career-day programs in which businessmen/women come to Shuman to talk about their professions and encourages the youths to reach for higher goals. Saunders has chaired the Black History Month Program at Shuman. Saunders has been at Shuman since 1989.
" Detention by itself is a very brief and critical time. We have to be careful that we try to motivate them at this point in their life," he said.
"For some, it's the first time they've ever been in that situation so it's a very traumatic time," he added.
 That so many of the youth at Shuman are black is quite disturbing.
" What we need is a massive spiritual revolution in the black community. There is a lack of values in the black community such as we've never seen before. We've gotten away from traditional values-praying together, sitting down to have a meal together, and demanding excellence from our young people.
Saunders, who once pushed for more minority hiring at Shuman, received an "Extra Effort Award" in 1991 for his work there.
Ron is willing to go that extra step beyond what's expected of him,' says Shuman Director Alex Wilson." He's constantly striving to get the youths here to look at not only where they are today but to realize this doesn't have to be their lot in life.
Wilson says Saunders tries creative ways to motivate the youths not only in his charge but throughout the Center.
"He's always looking for a new and different things to do with our youth around self-esteem, often dealing with cultural aspects for the African-American youths here. On a given day, we're talking about 85 percent African American young people here."
Shuman worker gives values, direction to youth offenders
On a particular day, Saunders dressed in a red jogging suit danced around a ping pong table with his youthful partner in an intense doubles game.
  Afterward, several youths dressed in white uniforms talked about Saunders' interaction with them.
Several boys, who can't be identified because of their ages, admired Saunders' skill on the basketball court.
" He used to be a coach, and he shows me a lot of fundamentals like how to slice and cut off the high post," says one boy.
 " He's all right," says another, " I like to play basketball, and he's steering me in the right direction."
 Other boys said they respected the knowledge that Saunders shares with them on an educational level and on a personal level.
" Sometime, when we have problems, we talk things over with him and he straightens it all out," says another boy.
" He gives me good advice, "says another, " He tries to keep your mind in the right state of mind."
Born and raised in the Hill District, Saunders attended Robert E. Lee Elementary School and Herron Hill Junior High School. He graduated from Fryeburg Academy, in Fryeburg Maine in 1950.
" I can't name one youngster who grew up on Bloomer Way who went into a life of crime, "Saunders says.
"They had many more obstacles to overcome than, say kids out of Fox Chapel- the main thing being the color of their skin. And I call it the red badge of courage myself."
Saunders studied Molecular Biology at Colgate University in Hamilton New York, and political science and sociology at the University of Pennsylvania.
Since then Saunders' life has been spent on the front line activities in the fight for civil rights, as well as working to give guidance to area youths.
His activities have included everything from supervising and coaching youth sports to investigating cases for the state Human Relations Commission and Supervising production at the former Volkswagen plant in East Huntington, Westmoreland County.
At Volkswagen, he was among 22 employees who successfully sued the company for racial harassment, and racial discrimination in all the terms and conditions of employment.
In 1984, Saunders was the principle founder of the National Black Political Caucus an organization he still uses as a forum for varied political activities. He and his longtime friend, civil rights activist Reginald Plato, is the President of the Caucus.
" He's a real go-getter, I'll say that, " Plato says of Saunders. " He believes in being involved. And he's interested in young kids and their improvement."
But kids and peers are not the only ones who appreciate Saunders' dedication to his ideals.
His wife Gina of 22 years says although his civic and social work often means time spent away from home, she wouldn't have it any other way.
" When we met, it was during the time when civil rights was a major issue, and he was committed to helping young people, " says his wife, a Supervisor in the local office of the ATF.
" If he hadn't continued along those lines, I might have thought I had married someone who wasn't true to what I admired him for."


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