Friday, February 6, 2004

From anger came a vow: Invest in your children

By Sharon Coolidge
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] Gregory Stallworth, a teacher at Mount Hope Academy, works with Brittania Stallworth, 17, (left) and Linzie Greiwe, 19, on an upcoming play, Mama Can't Save You, but the Lord Can.
(Jeff Swinger photo)
At first, Gregory Stallworth was consumed with rage at the man charged with shaking his baby granddaughter to death.

The Hope Academy teacher said that if he had been more involved in his daughter's life - had talked with her more often, discussing the men in her life and other problems she may have been having - his granddaughter might still be alive.

Four-month-old Kayla Stallworth died three days after Christmas and her father, Aleph Phelps, 25, of the West End, is charged in her death. The case is pending.

Stallworth, 50, of Mount Healthy, said the way he saw it he had two choices after Kayla's death:

"I could become angry and oppositional or re-evaluate a tragic incident and use it to help others," he said.

He chose the latter.

Stallworth, along with a handful of other professionals, launched Saving the Family, a loosely knit project designed to encourage Greater Cincinnati residents to put family first and to invest in their children. Doing so, he believes, will help reduce crime.

The group plans to hold a series of Saturday morning forums, the first of which Stallworth said will be held in Fairfield the first week in March.

"Families can come out and discuss problems they face and share their ideas and thoughts with others," Stallworth said. "That's what builds a community."

Stallworth, along with Stan Ross, coordinator of the Youth Street Worker program through the Cincinnati Human Relations Commission, plan to take the forums to recreation centers, churches and schools in Avondale, Evanston, Walnut Hills and the West End as well as suburban communities. The street worker program networks with at-risk kids and links them to professionals to meet their needs.

"This is needed, a lot of families are frustrated with their kids," Ross said. "Greg is the perfect person to lead this. As long as I've known him, he's a guy who goes out and does what the community needs. His heart is in the right place."

Stallworth said the lines of communication with Kayla's 24-year-old mother weren't open enough. Now he wants to prevent that communication gap in other families.

Children must be a family's first priority, Stallworth said.

"The strength of family plays a role in stopping violence in our streets," Stallworth said.

Steps to building a stronger family are not difficult. But they take a lot of work and need a lot of support, Stallworth said.

"Parents must invest time in children," he said. "They have to get involved in their education, make sure children participate in community activities and make it clear they are there to listen."


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