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Durham Man Offers 'Operation Hope'

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DURHAM — These days many kids live in dangerous, crime filled neighborhoods. To stay safe or to feel accepted, some of them join gangs.

A Durham man is trying to fight that trend and keep kids from turning to violence and crime.

"Operation Hope" reaches out to teens who are in trouble with the law, and to younger kids who are on the same path, and tries to teach them an alternative to gangs, guns, and violence.

"I've seen too many guns, right in my neighborhood," declares Cephus Stanback, 12 years old.

Young Cephus knows too much about the violence and turf wars that plague some of Durham's toughest neighborhoods. He's witnessed drive-by shootings like the one in Few Gardens that recently left 5-year-old Tyquan Mikell paralyzed.

Coach Arthur West speaks the same language as the kids he's trying to help. He knows them by name, knows their problems from experience. The former gang leader heads up "Operation Hope," a tough-love program that tries to steer high-risk kids in a positive direction. Some kids signed up so they could join the program's basketball league. Others were ordered here by the courts.

"We have a complete record of every kid who has completed six months and has never been back to court again," West says.

The program isn't just about keeping kids off the streets, it's about teaching them to live on the streets peacefully. West offers dozens of success stories, such as William Cooper. He's been in trouble at school, but after four months with "Operation Hope," he's making plans for college.

"It gives you something to look forward to. Instead of going out on weekends, it gives you something to look to," he says.

"Operation Hope" is run entirely by volunteers. They've applied for two grants, and if they don't get them, the program will probably fold.

Coach West says if that happens, Durham will lose both the program and young lives.


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