The Rapidian

The wrong crowd to the right crowd: young people work together for positive impact

Young activist Duke Turley works with youth and seeks to provide alternatives to the lifestyles that young people sometimes fall into in Grand Rapids.

/Courtesy of Shardae Jefferson

Written by Shardae Jefferson.

A lot of teenagers play “follow the leader,” which,depending on which leader they follow, could end in some of them being thrown in jail, out of school or even worse, death. Crimes rates over the past four months spiked tremendously, and there were over six murders between the months of December and January in Grand Rapids.

But with so much to look down on there is a new light emerging. Duke Turley, a 23-year-old entrepreneur, is seeking out activities and creating events to pull the community and youth together, rather than viciously tear it apart.

After starting Team All Da Way, Turley has put together both a breast cancer walk and a Trayvon Martin walk which included hundreds of people throughout the city.

Empowering the youth through motivation is key and Turley says the most important message to spread is simply to “be you.” He says your goals can become less attainable as a result of bad decisions. Seeing this can wake you up, he says.

That’s why Turley spends his time creating projects and events involving a group of young men called Team Polo, which allow for each member to do something constructive with their lives.

Developing these young men into stable, independent and respectable members of society is what Turley is aiming to do, and he allows them to make some mistakes only so they can grow from them.

He knows where he came from. And he knows he could be in a worse situation, and this wakes him up everyday. Turley’s past has enhanced his future by letting younger people learn from his struggles. Empowerment through struggle is ideal.

His mother and father are his biggest influence and encouragement. Violence impacted him at an early age and his dad was incarcerated when Turley was very young. His mother had to play the role of both his mother and father. Turley has two younger sisters, and he stepped up to be the father they never had.

Because violence took his father took away, he is compelled to give back to the community. Turley knows the impact that violence can have on a young person. He lost a close friend to gang violence when he was in the 10th grade. Gun violence is impacting youth at a younger level in this era, Turley says. An inherent issue surrounding violence and young people is hanging out with the wrong crowds.

A defining moment, Turley says, was during middle school. He was faced with the choice of playing on the basketball team or being on the dance team. Some guys might label it "a girl thing" to be on a dance team, but that didn't stop Turley. He knows it was a good thing that he had friends in different social groups and even at different age levels because he was on a conquest of diversity and wanted to find himself.

Turley didn't let people categorize him, which is a statement to young people because we always seem to judge or label people so easily. We constrict people and ourselves to a social hierarchy.

Turley strives to be an advocate for young people who society labels as "badly behaved" or "educationally struggling" youth. Society has isolated youth that are associated with bad behavior or bad grades. Ones with good grades and "good behavior" are allowed to go on trips or take part in college visits.

If the "poorly behaved" ones never get the chance to go on college visits and see a better life, how do we expect them to perform better when they are always excluded?

Turley doesn't allow anyone to cheat themselves in or out of school. Team Polo members must have good grades and work hard.

Turley says that when you're doing something to better the community, people see greatness and want to help. His biggest community goal is start different activities, programs and community organizations to keep the youth grounded and out of trouble.

Turley says this generation often labels certain things immature or childish when really they're exactly what young people need to advance in life.

Currently, Turley is studying secondary education. His goal is to be able to teach and to empower people in and outside of schools. He wants to see his movement expand and grow.

Turley says there is one thing to always keep in mind.

"No one owes you anything," he says. "But you owe God everything.”

There is always a chance to change and make things right. So step out of your comfort zone and influence, empower and embrace one another.

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