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THE NEXT LOS ANGELES / TURNING IDEAS INTO ACTION : Values : How do you teach your child values when it's on the list with 'find another job,' 'get some sleep' and 'do the laundry?' : Success Story : One Young Life Is Saved

July 17, 1994

If Nathaniel Pique had been in high school two years ago, he would surely have been named the least likely to succeed. At 9, he worked for drug dealers. At 16, his best friend was a .380-caliber automatic. At 18, he figured a 4-year-old girl caught in gang cross-fire was "just in the way."

Today, the 20-year-old who can say, "If I haven't done it, I've seen it done in front of me," is enrolled in community college and plans to graduate from a four-year school.

He credits his turnaround to the San Francisco-based Omega Boys Club, a nationally recognized youth organization that goes way beyond after-school basketball, offering job training, academic assistance and peer counseling to young African American men, ages 11 to 25, to stem the tide of drugs and violence in the inner city. The club's current budget is listed at $450,000, money raised from foundations, corporations and private donations, co-founder Joe Marshall said.

Pique first connected with Marshall, a former teacher, on the club's call-in radio show, "Street Soldiers," broadcast over commercial station KMEL-FM in San Francisco. The forum tries to reach gang members with straight talk about drugs and violence and to point the way out.

In June, the program began a simulcast in Los Angeles on the first and third Mondays of the month at 10 p.m. over KBET-FM 92.3.

Pique said he called in as a joke, but: "They talked to me an hour and 30 minutes. It hit me. No one ever came at me like they did. No one. It was basically: 'You're going to die or go to jail.' Then stuff started flashing before my eyes and I started getting worried about it."

Pique dismantled his gun and started to attend weekly Omega meetings.

What impressed Pique most were the caring and dedication shown to him by Marshall and academic Director Margaret Norris.

He revisited his old neighborhood once, and his car was stolen at gunpoint by an old enemy. Unable to control his desire for revenge, he embarked with his former partners on a manhunt at midnight, leaving a message on the Omega answering machine: "The streets is where I belong, where I'm going to stay at."

As they drove around looking for the carjacker, Pique's pager sounded. "It was the Omega Boys Club number. At one o'clock in the morning.... They just kept paging me and paging me and paging me. So I turned it off. Fifteen minutes later, I turned it on. It was still going off. So I pulled over and called them. It was Miss Norris."

She gave him a new thought: "You cannot kill the enemy. You think you're killing him. It creates a new enemy for you. His brother, sister, mother, father, cousin, friends. Then they're going to try and kill you. And that creates a new enemy for them."

He decided to go home.

So far, the Omega Club has helped finance the college educations of 108 young men and women from the inner city.

Pique works at the club as a peer counselor, answering the hot line and writing letters to inmates. While he awaits admission to a college or university, he studies at the local community college, earning A's in the administration of justice.

"I'm going to become what I always hated," he says. "A police officer."

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