In 1987, Joe Marshall Jr., a public school teacher turned full-time activist, and Jack Jacqua, then a school guidance counselor and now a liaison with juvenile detention facilities, co-founded the Omega Boys Club after witnessing increasing numbers of urban youth caught in a revolving door of gangs, drugs and jail. Believing that social diseases, like viral and bacterial diseases, are contagious, Omega is committed to helping young African American men eradicate a condition Marshall has diagnosed as " 'Hood Disease" before it becomes full-blown "A.I.D.S. - Addicted to Incarceration and Death Syndrome." Raised on the street, by television, and by bad example, these young men are cynical about anyone who purports to care, because in their experience no one has ever cared consistently. Fast becoming faceless statistics, they desperately need someone to give them a reason and a way to redirect their lives.
At Omega, tough young men strip themselves of their usual street bravado and reveal vulnerable, hurting people looking for help. These are not the images of the 10 o'clock news. These are young men who refuse to be cast aside as the bad seed and too far gone to be helped. "We look at violence and the trouble that these kids get into as an illness, a malady, a disease. To them it looks like health, but we know now that it is treatable, and that they are victims of unprotected social relations," says Marshall. With this unique approach, Omega has evolved into a nationally-recognized community organization working to move at-risk and incarcerated African American youth from "the jail house to the school house" by providing a surrogate family, and offering academic training and college scholarships. In the past nine years, Omega has sent more than 150 young men to college. "If you work with us, we will get you out of jail and into college. Everybody else runs a program. We run a family," says Marshall.
Omega has developed a three-fold treatment process to combat " 'Hood Disease": eliminate risk factors (friendships in the guise of "fearships," violence and neglect at home, etc.); help recognize and deal with anger, fear, and pain; and adopt new rules for living that replace old codes of living by the laws of the street. "The most important rule for living is life. There is nothing more important than a person's life. The second rule involves change. If you want things to change, you've got to change yourself. The third rule for living is respect, which can only come from within yourself. The fourth rule involves friendship. We have to refashion and redefine that concept for them, and we tell them a friend is someone who will never lead you to danger," says Marshall. Street Soldiers follows the absorbing process and progress of three young men - Enoch Hawkins, Kai Butler, and Donald Gregory - as they attempt to move beyond their gang-banger worlds toward recovery. Each story is different, but startling similarities are exposed. Their video diaries, stories, and choices are real. They are also emblematic of the journeys of tens of thousands of other young men across America.