Kobe Patterson is too young to drive or stay up past 8 p.m., but he’s old enough to know about survival.
He knows to lie on his belly when he hears gunshots and to keep walking when men gather on his street corner to fight.
At his house, his single mother, Carla Cleare, says the place they live in Cherry Tree Crossing, one of Augusta’s most violent housing projects, is not a home but a steppingstone.
“It’s rough here, but this is not permanent for us,” she said. “We’re going to do better, so I talk to him about what you don’t do, and what he needs to do to get out – and that’s school.”
Cleare knows that a sure ticket to better things is education. She makes Kobe and his brother, Anfernee, work on homework every day, study for tests and keep from getting distracted by what’s outside their window.
Several families in Cherry Tree Crossing are taking a particular focus on education to steer their children away from the violence in their neighborhood and on to a better life. Two rising seventh-graders – Kobe, 12, and his friend Brandon Ivey, 11 – have been accepted at A.R. Johnson Health Science and Engineering Magnet School despite the distractions beyond their control. They are sixth-graders at Collins K-8 School.
Augusta-based Men’s Awakening to God awarded Cleare and Brandon’s mother, Elline, plaques at a ceremony Wednesday in Cherry Tree to recognize them for keeping their sons on a positive path.
“We think that’s a big accomplishment for them to do that,” said Vernal Nelson, the director of Men’s Awakening to God. “We got guns out here in Cherry Tree, you have stabbings here in Cherry Tree, you have shootings. With all of that, these beautiful mothers here beat all the odds in helping their children focus.”
Violence is a regular occurrence in the project, where many families have school-age children. The Richmond County Sheriff’s Office was called to Cherry Tree 2,357 times in 2011, an average of six calls a day, for shootings, assaults, burglaries, drugs and other offenses.
Brandon said staying focused on school is hard, but his new opportunity at A.R. Johnson is motivation to maintain the A/B honor roll he has kept through the seventh grade.
“This is an opportunity to prepare him for college and better things in life,” Elline Ivey said of A.R. Johnson.
The youths were accepted based on Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests scores and grades and said they hope to use their A.R. Johnson education to continue to college. School system social worker Rochelle Brown, who works with parents in Cherry Tree weekly, says a common thread among successful children is supportive parents.
“Parents are the key to the success for all our communities,” Brown said.
District 1 Augusta Commissioner Matt Aitken, who attended the awards ceremony, said that it’s easy for children to go wayward when they don’t have fathers or safe neighborhoods but that the two mothers are an example of what’s possible.
“We can’t expect the law to do it all,” Aitken said. “The community has a place. Moms have a place. When we get all of the major things in their place, you’re going to see things happen.”