Word & Image: Jo White, 53, and Tommy Cox, 66 

Richmond Chapter Co-Founders, Saving Our Youth and the Guardian Angels

White: "Tommy and I started Saving Our Youth about five years ago. We have two different passions. My heart was in education. We work with high-school students — help them find scholarships, give them mentors. Tommy’s is to help juveniles get off the streets because that was his background coming up.

Cox: "I can see in the youth now what I was. Mom dying when I was 13, father wasn’t there, no family, just facing the world with nothing but anger and confusion. I went astray and wound up being a chronic criminal. So I done been through the fire. I know exactly what these kids are going through.

White: "About a year after we started Saving Our Youth, we realized, “How can we be helping these youth and then [be] putting them back on the street where this stuff is happening?” Being that I’m from New Jersey, I was well aware of the Guardian Angels. We were given permission to open a chapter down here. We have about 12 Guardian Angels and we need a hundred and 12. I’d say the average age of our chapter is 40.

Cox: "— 35, 40, yeah. Most of the people have been from other races, which is pretty weird, and they don’t live around here.

White: "But I can understand that if you’re going to be doing safety patrols and things like that in the community you live in, you’re going to be scared people will try to retaliate. If you’re going to do street patrol you have to take martial arts classes. We do a lot of community service activities. In some cases, if we know someone is selling drugs on a corner, we may stand on the other corner and do what we call “post up.” Normally, if we stand there for a while, they leave. We know they’re going to come back but, hey, they’re annoying the community, we’re going to annoy them because we ruin their business when we are there. We’ve had a great community response. Very few people don’t like us and very few people don’t know who the Guardian Angels are, but, yes, we have seen some skepticism.

Cox: "Oh, they call me all kinds of names.

White: "Some people call him Uncle Tom. The most common misconception is that we’re vigilantes. We’re not.

Cox: "Or people say that we’re just wannabe police and probably couldn’t pass the test. And we’re saying we’re not trying to be police, we’re trying to help the police.

White: "We have now embarked on a campaign against black-on-black homicide. There were 37 homicides last year in Richmond. Thirty-six of the victims were black. I don’t know how many perpetrators were black, but I would guess it’s real close to 100 percent if not 100 percent. Yet we are only 50 percent of the population of Richmond. I know the biggest problem is poverty and family structure, but you can’t fight everything. Our fight right now is the aftermath, what all that has caused on these streets. We have to take a part and this is the part we want to take."

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