Growing up in Thomson, Leonard Hart made the right decisions in life - thanks in part to good parents and his ability to think for himself. Today, he advocates for youngsters and teenagers to make those same right choices in hopes of preventing them from falling prey to street life.
The things you do right now do matter, said Mr. Hart in his opening remarks to dozens of young people, parents and adults during a drug and gang violence prevention discussion at the Thomson Housing Authority last Wednesday. You need to make up your mind right now to make good choices. It's the biggest lesson you will ever learn in life.
Mr. Hart knows all too well what making wrong decisions can do to a person's life. He's seen firsthand the countless victims that can be snatched up by street life activities such as using and selling drugs and being involved in gang activities that often times lead to such violent acts as murder. The 1968 graduate of R.L. Norris High School in Thomson knows because it's what he sees practically everyday in his job as captain in-charge of gang activity and narcotics with the Richmond County Sheriff's Department.
Street life is something that has been a way of life for him in Augusta and Richmond County for nearly 32 years. For the past 15 years, Capt. Hart, who formerly was with the Augusta Police Department for nearly 17 years, has taken time out of his hectic schedule to visit towns throughout the Central Savannah River Area spreading his belief that making right choices in life can keep a person out of jail. He talks primarily to those in middle and high schools and occasionally reaches some who have quit school.
Just as adults have decisions to make, so do children, said Capt. Hart. You have to learn to listen to others, he added. You have to realize that someone is always going to tell you how and when to do something. You may not like it, but that's the way it is.
Having respect for yourself and others also is a key to growing up today, said Capt. Hart. You're going to have to learn to respect other people, if you want to be respected yourself, said Capt. Hart.
Such respect, he explained, includes listening to parents, grandparents, teachers and others in adult capacity.
Capt. Hart explained that another way of showing respect is demonstrating good manners.
He said that when teenagers act out - they should know there's going to be consequences for such actions.
You need to learn at an early age that nobody is going to put up with your attitude, Capt. Hart said. You need to listen to what your parents, grandparents and teachers tell you.
Many of the problems that he encounters daily are a result of teenagers missing something at home.
A lot of kids end up where they do, because they are missing something in their lives - something at home, he added.
Taking problems into one's own hands is the wrong way to handle things often, he pointed out.
When you take certain problems into your own hands, you're going to have problems, Capt. Hart said. You've got to learn good behavior. It's demanded that you learn good behavior.
He also said that often people talk themselves into problems.
Capt. Hart recalled what his mother told him growing up in Thomson: Nobody knows how dumb you are until you open your mouth.
He encouraged those attending to decide what they want to be in life and go after it in a positive way - not by doing it the easy way and getting into a life filled with crime and jail time.
Capt. Hart also noted that older teenagers need to remember the importance of taking care of their little sisters and brothers and having the knowledge to understand that their little siblings look up to them.
They idolize you, Capt. Hart said. You have an obligation to help them make the right choices just like you have that same choice for yourselves.
Before concluding, Capt. Hart also interacted with pre-teens, teenagers and parents during his two-hour talk, which included discussions about drugs. He showed them many of the street drugs that are common in Augusta and Richmond County - explaining that some of the those same drugs are common in Thomson and McDuffie County, too.