COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – Ralph Carter has been working to change the lives of youth in Linden for years. He started ‘We Are Linden’ as a way to unite the youth in positivity. His message is working.

“I was going down the wrong path, doing the wrong things, just fighting, letting my anger get the best of me. So pretty much it just helped me be a better version of me,” said 15-year-old Jephthah Thomas.

Carter was instrumental in holding a town hall style meeting at the Linden-McKinley auditorium Thursday night. He knows school is right around the corner and a new school year brings new opportunities and challenges for students.

“We want them to know school is their safe haven. We don’t want no child to feel like they have to go to school in fear. Fear of someone trying to attack them, fear and failing, right. We know failure will happen. We want you to at least try and know there’s somebody there. You just have to ask for help,” Carter said.

Several other groups in the community were there to show support for school staff, parents, and of course, the students. Eric Troy is one of those people looking to make a difference. He helps youth get involved in sports and leadership at St. Stephen’s every Saturday. He shares his expertise in sports marketing to show the teens there are a lot of opportunities out there for them.

Getting out in the community and experiencing new things is part of what Carter wants his teens to get out of their time in school. 

“For them to get enriched into their community. Knowing where the safe havens are. Going to those places, knowing what doors to knock on, who to speak to about whatever problem there is,” Carter explained.

Carter said he starts with a question: “Do you want to live?” 

Then, “If you do want to live you have to take these safe steps in order to do so. Knowing what group to run with and who not to run with. Knowing what place to go and what places not to go,” Carter said. “The youth don’t always connect and talk to their parents, they talk to outside sources. We will be able to create that hedge of protection, protect our youth and again level set.” 

Along with Thomas, 16-year-old Dysean Prater has seen first hand what communication can do for him. 

“He helped me change my anger because I was going down the wrong path,” Prater said. “If they’re going through something they have somebody to talk to. And the anger won’t build up with frustration and they’ll calm down after they talk to that person that they feel safe with.”

The impact Carter has had on these two young men is what he wants to replicate throughout the school year with students, parents, teachers and staff working together to communicate better.

Thomas looks at communication as an integral part of his growth. 

“It kind of just like clears my mind for all the things I did in the past and just keeps me wanting to push forward and make a better future. The only person that can really help myself do better, is myself. I can listen to other people. But I know the only person that can better myself is me,” Thomas said.

With young people getting caught up in violence and crime across Columbus, Carter said a key part of getting his message across is being able to understand what these kids are going through.

“A lot of times they say we’re just trying to fit in,” Carter said. “It’s the social economics and knowing you’re not lame if you choose not to get in that car. You’re actually smarter than the people in the car. So, we want them to not drive themselves to an early grave. Make those positive changes and make those better choices in life.”