Aug. 30, 2008 — Nearly two dozen young men at the Youth Rehabilitation Center (YRC) on St. Croix came together Saturday with Native American teacher Andrew Soliz and actor/producer LeVar Burton in a distinctive program aimed at healing and helping them find the right path to success.
Soliz is the founder of Sacred Ways Native American teaching center in Ojai, Cal. Sacred Ways teaches a way of living with and learning from nature and a way of honor, respect, communication, love and honesty. The programs are deeply infused with the traditional wisdom and teachings of the Native American people.
"I believe the journey I'm on is the same — black and red together," Burton said. "We need to heal sociologically and psychologically. That is why I've come here with Andrew."
The program which continues through Monday is sponsored by the Department of Human Services and Stop the Bleeding Inc. an initiative headed by Cheryl Francis, wife of Lt. Gov. Gregory Francis.
"This is a different perspective and initiative," said Kimberley Gomez, assistant commissioner at the Department of Human Services. Gomez said some of the kids started out in the system 16 years ago, and we're not doing them justice.
Soliz, who is Pueblo and Mayan, said he began his center because boot camps for at-risk youth don't work — breaking the spirit of the youths they are trying to reform. He told the media about one camp in particular where parents pay $5,000 for their children to march around the desert for two weeks. He said none of them deal with the heart — Sacred Ways nurtures the spirit and heart.
Burton said in Native American teachings the pathway indicates what we do now has repercussions through seven generations. He compared the Native American and V.I. cultures as oppressed people seven generations ago. He added we spend a lot of time ignoring the truth.
"As an actor, director and writer I have a remarkable opportunity to give back and make an impact on the next generation," Burton said. "I see the opportunity for healing that must begin somewhere."
For survival some young men put on a mask, Burton said.
"They act like a tough guy, but behind the mask they are really hurting," Burton said.
Due to confidentiality the media was not allowed to sit in the group's discussions.
During the morning session they began the process of healing with introductions. They discussed love, peace and patience and were given lessons on how to become men in a good way. They shared traditions and differences finding out they have more in common than differences. They talked about how many times they had been in and out of YRC. One had been in and out five times.
Burton shared the story of his role as Kunta Kinte in the mini series "Roots." Kunta Kinte was captured, sent to Maryland and was sold to a plantation owner in Virginia.
Burton was a 19-year-old student at the University of Southern California when he got the part in the series.
After the discussions, the media was permitted back in the classroom where the boys slouched in chairs circled around the small room.
Soliz asked the boys to give their thoughts on what they learned from the discussions. Only six said they had learned anything. They said they learned about things such as community unity, getting in touch with spirituality, communication and listening.
Soliz said at least the boys who said they hadn't learned anything.
were truthful. Cheryl Francis was in attendance at this part of the session. The media was asked to leave again but the boys asked Francis to stay.
Sessions will also be held at the Queen Louise Home and the V.I. Behavioral Services Girls Cottage.
The YRC is a 20-bed facility that provides social services, nutrition, limited education and recreation for pre-trial youth; adjudicated delinquents; adolescents legally transferred to adult status for committing serious offences, including murder, and detainees by the Office of Immigration and Naturalization Services.
Share your reaction to this news with other Source readers. Please include headline, your name and city and state/country or island where you reside.