What: The Future is Ours campaign
When: Noon-4 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Carver Recreation Center, 600 N. Orchard Knob Ave.
Information: Call 423-643-6082
Charmane Goins grew up in Emma Wheeler and College Hill Courts public housing sites without his biological father in the picture. It made him angry.
He got into fights, committed robbery and served 15 years in prison, where he commanded hundreds of people as a leader in the Gangster Disciples, a centralized criminal organization.
But Goins changed.
He quit the gang and became a Christian while still in prison. He took business and speaking classes in prison and, at age 34 and less than a year after being released, he became the owner and manager of the Bistro @ the Beth.
"Everybody knows: Once in a gang always in a gang, but I beg to differ," Goins said.
The husband and father will be among the male role models and city officials who are scheduled to attend the kickoff of The Future is Ours campaign Saturday at Carver Recreation Center.
The event is designed to pull together every resource and person who wants to convince Chattanooga youths that they have a prosperous and meaningful future and show them how to walk into it, said Boyd Patterson, the city's gang task force coordinator.
"This is the invitation," said Patterson. "Everybody who has an interest in helping at-risk youth, this is for the faith-based community, the pastors. We're inviting all service providers, every single one. Every individual who has their own program that they want to highlight. And we want the youths, the grandmothers and the parents to come."
For the event, Goins is providing 400 free meals from his bistro. Others will be on hand to sign up youth for summer programs, and ministers will pray for the families who lost people to violence and for those who committed crimes against them.
Also planned is a step show by local fraternities and sororities, and representatives from the city's Parks and Recreation Department will sign up youths for sports.
This isn't a one-time event, said Patterson, who wants The Future is Ours to be a city department. Mayor Ron Littlefield is requesting $500,000 in his budget to fund the department.
Patterson and Fred Houser, another gang task force coordinator, said they also have applied for federal grants to fund youth jobs and to help youth get their GEDs.
More adults are needed to be supervisors and role models for youth, Houser said.
"For this model to be effective, we're going to have to draw on human capital," he said.
The gang task force has been in the making since the mid-2000s, when the number of people affiliated with gangs began to increase in the city, Patterson said. But it all came to a head in December when nine people were shot outside a club in downtown Chattanooga on Christmas morning, Patterson said.
The Tennessee Legislature this year passed a bill that increases the penalties for those convicted of gang-related crimes, a bill that was pushed by Chattanooga officials.
For Goins, it took a series of tragedies and a religious conversion to get him out of gangs.
In May 2000, his first wife was diagnosed with cancer and given six months to live. In June 2000, his biological father was shot and killed six years after they started to form a relationship.
And in August that year his mother-in-law and two sisters-in-law died in a car accident. His son was also in the car and was thrown from the vehicle but survived.
Goins said he cried for the first time since he had been in prison when he got a phone call and heard his son's voice.
"I fell on my knees and said, 'Lord, I don't know you,'" Goins said. "But for some reason you spared my son's life. For that reason you can have mine."