Two years after integrating back into society after thirteen years in prison, Rodney McGill found himself in college, working a steady job, and enjoying fatherhood. But he also noticed something that troubled him. Everyone beside him – white, black, Latino – were all going through the same problem, which he describes as a lack of understanding at a young age. So, in 2014, during his senior year at Belmont Abbey College, McGill started the Save Our Children Movement as a response to feeling that society needed something that wasn’t being implemented in the communities around him.
“The only way for us to make the type of society that any good person would want is to start at the roots, which is children,” says McGill. The title of his organization reveals its mission statement. At the heart of this group is the desire to help children realize their potential in hopes of creating a more vibrant future. There’s no epicenter to the association; while they are primarily located in Gaston County in North Carolina, they’ve organized events in Charlotte, and even crossed state lines to South Carolina and Georgia. This is by design. Their mission is locally based, but it’s a model McGill wants to expand globally. The “blueprint to save every ghetto in the world,” revolves around connecting kids to programs in their communities. This was born out seeing that some neighborhoods haven’t changed at all. McGill spent many of his formative years in Gastonia. “I grew up on Barclay Street – it looks the same as it always has,” he says, pointing to a systemic problem related to place. Where you grow up perhaps has more determination in what you become than it should, especially if that place is economically challenged.
McGill wants to change this depressing cycle by intersecting community organizations and leaders with the youth. SOCM’s KEFA program aims to do just this. KEFA stands for Karate, Education, Food, and Academy. Each program piece is a different, yet critical, touchpoint in a child’s life. Holistically, the program is designed to teach a valuable skill, integrate children into their larger community, and inspire them to become positive members of society. Through the areas of food, clothing, mentorship, academics, family support, recreation, behavioral skills, and other areas of youth development, SOCM hopes to break the cycle that leaves young kids without a sense of support or agency.
The EFA of KEFA is perhaps self-explanatory. Meeting basic needs and education are both major catalysts for change in a young person’s life. The karate angle is a bit more unique in that it prefaces this specific sport over others. So why karate, and not say, basketball or football? McGill suggests that karate offers a dimension those ‘typical’ sports may not: self-discipline, which leads to self-development. This medium for channeling emotions such as anger and frustration is critical in equipping children to manage their feelings appropriately. In all of these areas of KEFA, children are able to “establish productive relationships and a positive sense of self.”
McGill describes the KEFA structure of connecting community to youth as a “village saving the village mentality.” Certainly, the ideals of McGill address community as its roots, and starting with children enables change in a way that can bring about lasting transformation. KEFA can be translated into any neighborhood around the globe.
McGill isn’t just about planning and infrastructure, although that matters, too. It’s about community. That’s likely where you’ll find him. In the community, just hanging out and empowering kids. Most of the organization’s events take the form of social gatherings, like cookouts. “The good is for everybody,” McGill explains, and there’s no better way to express that than by bringing the community together. It starts at the local level of course, but the dream is for a better world, a community of cities connected by common goals and an investment in its youngest members. “We’re the metroplex for the underprivileged,” he says.