Richard Robinson was barely over 21 when he opened his first funeral home in south Macon.
In the three years since starting his own business, the young man from east Macon has seen a disproportionate share of young people among his hometown’s homicide victims.
Monday, Robinson joined Macon-Bibb County commissioners Al Tillman and Virgil Watkins to announce their new partnership aimed at reducing youth violence.
Tillman approached Robinson about opening up the funeral home on Pio Nono Avenue for children and teens to see what it would be like if their lives were cut short.
“You can go to jail and get out, you can be on house arrest but there’s one thing – when you leave this funeral home someone is rolling you out and the heartache that it puts on your family, your mom, your dad, your grandparents, brothers, sisters, etc., friends,” Robinson said. “I hope that maybe this will turn their life around and let them know that one stupid decision can land you here earlier than expected.”
As a millennial, the 25-year-old Robinson said he will make himself available to talk to youth about the challenges they face.
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“They can call anytime they want to,” said Robinson, who has been working since he was 15. “I think that a lot of times talking to someone your age helps you better than talking to someone who is 50 or 60 years old ‘cause they don’t necessarily deal with the same life struggles that we have in our generation today.”
While visiting the funeral home, at-risk youth will go into the counseling room where grieving families decide what type of services they want or can afford. They’ll also see the casket and cremation urn showroom.
“This is a tough room to walk into especially when you’re burying a young person,” Robinson said as he led reporters through the caskets.
The young people also will be challenged to ponder the reality of their own demise and write an obituary to sum up their life in two minutes.
“Of course, it’s a little bit darker. It’s not a solution for everyone,” Watkins said of the latest attempt to quell violence in the Macon community. “It is an offering that may help some. It may be the moment of reality that helps some.”
Tillman and Watkins, as the youngest commissioners on the consolidated government, began focusing on youth violence six years ago, Tillman said.
They have taken young people to tour the jail and see the court system in action, but Tillman sees the funeral home tour as the next step.
“I think with this partnership is more of a reality of what happens. That you can walk out of the jail, you can walk out of that courtroom but you can’t walk out of here,” Tillman said. “This is not a scare tactic. It’s more of a reality check.”
The commissioners wanted to kick off the project at the start of 2020 to reduce the number of people who will die violent deaths this year.
“To let folks know that we are serious and we’re continuing to move forward in that direction of seriousness to reduce gun violence and aggravated assaults and crimes against anybody,” Tillman said.
Watkins envisions scheduling multiple tours through civic organizations, recreation department activities and the sheriff’s office summer camps. Robinson is volunteering his time and no tax dollars or other funds are being spent on this project, the commissioners said.
There are already a number of programs available for at-risk youth, yet whenever there is violent crime people start pointing fingers, Tillman said.
“People, for whatever reason, always look to blame our government. What is the city doing?” he said.
Tillman, who serves as Mayor Pro Tem on the commission, said new industries that have opened in recent years are providing lucrative job opportunities for young people who are willing to work.
“We brought so many jobs through our Macon-Bibb Industrial Authority to this community that with a GED or a high school diploma most young men, if they put down that weed, can start out making $40,000,” Tillman said.
This story was produced through collaboration with the Mercer University Center for Collaborative Journalism. Contact Civic Reporting Senior Fellow Liz Jarvis Fabian at 478-301-2976 or email email@example.com.