VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — James Risper has a passion for saving young people from the streets. 

The 58-year-old pastor of God’s Assemblage of Faith Church in Virginia Beach recently wore a prison jumpsuit to illustrate the consequences of bad decisions.

“It’s easy to look at but it’s hard to wear,” he told a crowd recently at a youth rally.

“I wore this,” he said, pointing to his orange prison garb.

Risper’s overall message to youth is, “The time for change is now.” 

His non-profit organization is called, “Am I My Brother’s Keeper” which aims to mentor and help youth make healthy decisions in life.

“I picked up that name because it’s biblical, he said in an interview with CBN News. “It’s about is getting the young people to understand that there’s a way out of all situations,” he explained.

Saving Youth From Making the Mistakes He Made

Risper knows what’s it’s like to take the wrong path because he grew up in the same community he’s trying to reach.

He shared how his bad decisions led to drug addiction and jail. And in 2006, his son was shot and killed. 

He now wants to help young people avoid similar pitfalls.

“I came through homelessness, drugs and everything so what I’m doing now is giving back some of the things God gave me,” he said.

Risper and his fiancée, Terry Brinson, hope to open a community youth center where they will offer education services and help kids who are dealing with gang violence, drugs and bullying.

“We just want to offer a full-scale of everything pertaining to life that would help make your life more complete and better,” said Brinson.

The vision is spreading.

Forming Partnerships with Community Leaders

Former Green Bay Packer Aaron Rouse recently spoke at Risper’s annual community event.  Rouse also grew up in a poor community and wants to show kids that success can be attained.

He told CBN News,”Any time someone like myself can make it out it’s vitally important that I come back and give these kids and the youth a chance to see that hey he has his college degree, he went to the pros, he’s educated, now he has a career which was founded in education.”

Virginia Beach Mayor Will Sessoms also attended the event. He highlighted the need for government to partner with groups like “Am I My Brother’s Keeper.”

“The city cannot do everything on its own but when it partners with faith-based organizations and non-profit organizations those partnerships are terrific and when partnered together making things happen get out of our way,” Sessoms said.

Developing a Positive View of Law Enforcement

Risper is also seeking to improve young people’s negative perception of law enforcement.

“Most of the police are not like the ones that we have seen,” he commented.

“Most of them are out there to serve and protect but our youth catch on by what they hear others saying and whenever police kill or shoot somebody usually it is a black man but at the same token they don’t know the whole story.” 

Officers credit Risper and other faith-based groups for trying to make their work easier.

“He helps us with recruiting which we really need,” said Virginia Beach Police Captain Kenneth Miller. “He helps us with understanding so the partnership’s important.” 

Young people who attended the awareness program said it opened their eyes.

“As a teenager I’m like I can’t wait to get out the house but seeing what’s out there was like I can stay a little bit longer,” said 15-year-old Karnashia Jeffries of Hampton.

14-year-old Carnell Jeffries, also of Hampton, said, “These days it’s a lot of shooting and stuff, so I should stay out of the streets and in church more.”

17-year-old Christine Davis lost a friend to gun violence. 

“He was at the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people and like as a teenager that’s really hard for somebody to cope with that,” said Davis.

Parents said the event helped them to understand the problems their kids are facing.

LaTasha Davis of Hampton commented, “They need to be aware of the things that’s plaguing our community and I’m just happy that they had the opportunity to experience the wonderful skit and the speakers.”

“I believe it’s going to empower them and make them better and make the parents better as well,” she said.

Which is something Risper believes is needed now more than ever.