Los Angeles, CA — Los Angeles youth have been labeled uncontrollable hoodrats and defiant gang bangers without a dream in life or a purpose to serve. Most elders have given up on reforming this “unruly” generation, but many still have hope. Randolf Holland, 46, has been steadfast in his battle against corrupt lifestyles among youth.

At Washington Preparatory High School and the surrounding communities, youth and residents have been terrorized by gangs like the Hoover Crips, South Los, and the Undergrounds for several years. Violent crimes, murders and robberies have created a since of fear in the neighborhood.

Through his organization, Operation Save the Youth, Holland is providing peace of mind for students as they travel to and from school. It is based on the campus of Duke Ellington Continuation High School and has been there for at least six months. From 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., Holland’s volunteers from the community patrol the Washington High vicinity on donated bikes, searching for neighborhood nomads displaying suspicious behavior, trespassers, and truant students. Holland says truant students are more likely to skip school and terrorize the neighborhood. He has also joined forces with the Lennox Sheriff’s Station, working to seize weaponry from students and to help reduce gang intimidation.

The multicultural male and female volunteers are a group of redeemed young people who were delinquent in their past. Now they are encouraging teens and relating to the challenges students face on a daily basis.

Holland too has had his share of problems in his younger days. “I come from a dysfunctional home and community,” he says. “And as a youth I was involved in delinquent behavior. I want to prevent the next generation from making the choices I made.”

The organization is multifaceted and provides student activities, as well as community programs and counseling. In being a gang intervention and prevention organization, Holland says his group weighs heavily on conflict resolution and anger management programs. He says the lack of an outlet for angry teens often contributes to violence. Some of the volunteers double up as sports coaches for the program’s boxing, basketball, and chess teams.

Myron Hill, a senior at Duke Ellington, has been involved with Operation Save the Youth since it established a presence on his campus. “They kind of get a one on one with all the kids,” he says. “Students talk to them about the problems they have. They are also willing to talk to us.”

He says he sees relief in his peers because they are reassured of their safety. “They don’t have to worry about anybody messing with them on the way to school, during school, or after school,” Hill says. “The program keeps me in the right direction. They are our protectors.”

Cecil E. McLinn, principal of Duke Ellington for 15 years, keeps track of the violence in the surrounding neighborhoods as his students report information. Mounted on his office wall is a map of Washington High and South LA. Labeled with color coordinated push-pins, at least twelve murders since January of this year are marked on the map. McLinn says that it’s an improvement compared to last year.

The Lennox Sheriff’s Station reports only eight homicides in the safe passage area, but 97 gang related shootings from 2006 to April 30th this year, some of which include:

Last September after a football game at Washington High, a 19 year-old man and 12 year-old girl were shot. Four gang members were arrested; this past February a man on a bike in the unincorporated area of Athens was approached by a suspect described to be in his 20s. Sometime during school hours, the rider was shot several times and killed. Authorities were alerted at 1 p.m.; two men were injured on March 21 by a drive-by shooter in Inglewood. The shooting broke out during a party at about 11:30 p.m.; a man identified as Jeffery Laurant was fatally shot on the 1000 block of West 103rd Street April 25 at 2:30 p.m.; on April 29, a drive-by outside of a Lennox taco stand left one dead and five people injured. Among the injured victims were two men, a woman, a teen, and a 12-year-old boy.

“What I found out is that the young gangsters are killing the old gangsters,” McLinn reveals. “A lot of it is over drugs. Gangs offer young men respect, power, and love.”

Holland has been in talks with the Lennox Sheriff station, which covers the crime near Washington High. Currently three sheriff units patrol the unincorporated area between Vermont and the school. He is hoping to collaborate with police and sheriff’s departments to create programs to better serve the community’s youth.

Deputy Bruce McCall, the community relations deputy at the Audrey and Sydney Irmas Youth Activity Center, understands the need for community members and organizations to join forces against gang violence. “It is a collaborative effort with the CHP, Sheriff, and community partners trying to figure out how to make a better way for kids to get home safely,” McCall explains.

McLinn says he is amazed at the dedication and effectiveness of Holland’s group. “If you know Southwest Los Angeles and you know Washington High School and the community problems we’ve had,” he comments, “the people would understand why we needed some young men from our community to step up to the plate.” In his time at the school, McLinn confesses that he has never seen any gang prevention groups quite like this one. He says it is unique and is the most successful.

“I am screaming in my own heart that we have to reverse this trend, because pretty soon we are going to have so many brothers locked up that its over,” the principal adds.

McLinn was born and raised in Los Angeles and has seen the changes in the community. His own passion for the youth drives him to work with Holland’s group.

“Nobody is going to change the communities except the people who live in them,” McLinn says. “One of the problems we have in L.A. County is that we don’t collaborate together on what we are doing. We are doing little things in little spots all over the place.”

Holland has been committed to the cause now for ten years without pay. People from the community donate the bikes and other materials necessary to make his operation a success. His office, located at a church on Broadway, was donated by his pastor. McLinn has also donated uniforms to help identify the volunteers and to keep the community informed of whom the “good guys” are. They wear neutral colors: black shirts with white lettering and hats with the same scheme.

A federal education grant for $8 million is currently being processed for the Washington family of schools, of which a portion will go to helping children on probation, gang prevention and counseling. From that grant, McLinn hopes to see some of that money trickle down to Holland’s group to provide paid positions for the volunteers.

Duke Ellington and Washington High School have also teamed up to find a way to prevent violence and gang infestation. Assistant Principal Ken Johnson on the main campus explains that several students have been involved with shootings and violence in and around school, but gang violence has decreased since last year thanks to several adjustments to intervention plans.

“We focus on implementing programs that encourage our students to improve,” Johnson says. “We have more security, more awareness and we are speaking to the students and bringing those counseling services to the students.”

McLinn says the gang problem is not only infiltrating the high schools in the area, but also the elementary schools.

He says, “I got a call from one of Manhattan Place Elementary’s counselors, Mrs. Sanchez, and she says to me, ‘We are starting to get a gang problem at our school. Our kids are starting to talk the gang talk and their fighting a lot and getting suspended.’”

Violence in these neighborhoods continues to fall under the radar and is rarely covered by the press. Though there appears to be a slow down, gang influences are not showing any signs of recession. South L.A. is still looking for a solution.

Holland is truly committed to the youth of Los Angeles. Along with peer mediation and other programs through Operation Save the Youth, he wants the community to get involved and understand that there is hope in L.A.’s youth. He says, “We are approaching this together with the community and we need more volunteers.”