‘We need to start talking’: Operation Save Our Sons sparks community conversations

JACKSONVILLE, Fla — The local group Operation Save Our Sons (OSOS) has launched a new and unique opportunity for the community to come together.

It’s called ‘Shop Talk,’ and the group will visit barbershops, restaurants, and other spots around town to spark some timely and necessary conversations.

On this Father’s Day, the congregation at St. Paul Church of Jacksonville received an extra dose of encouragement from the pulpit -- roundtable style.

The church was the first stop in the new initiative, and the goal is to create safe spaces for men of all ages to discuss and find solutions for issues they say are plaguing the city.

Dr. John Guns is the church’s senior pastor and the founder of Operation Save our Sons.

“Right now, the big issue is gun legislation and gun reform,” Dr. Guns said. We see the impact of certain weapons in our neighborhoods and in our country.”

Sunday’s conversation at St. Paul Church of Jacksonville focused on the role of a father.

“As fathers, we don’t have to be perfect -- we just have to be present,” one participant shared with the group.

“My dad taught me before he passed when I was in the seventh grade -- to love God, treat people right, mean what you say, and do what you say,” another participant said.

Alphonso McClendon is the board chair of Operation Save Our Sons. He explained why OSOS is of great benefit to young males.

“It’s an important age because those are the ages of influence,” McClendon said. “Those are the ages where they get where they’re going to go and the direction their life is going to go.

McClendon said these important, sometimes difficult, conversations need to start at a young age.

“For a lot of kids, the only course they see is crime and violence, and a lot of them end up in jail or the grave,” McClendon said. “Our thing is -- let’s curb that crime and that violence by giving them an option with their life. A lot of kids feel like they don’t have an option. We always say -- it takes a village. The village is now speaking.”

Organizers say the conversations during each stop will be organic. Mental health is another topic that will be brought up.

“Statistically, over half of the children of color grow up without the active presence of a father,” Dr. Guns shared during the conversation.

OSOS was founded by Dr. John Guns in 2014 in Jacksonville and aims to equip African-American males ages 10-18 with the life skills needed to be successful and productive.

The group hopes to hold ‘Shop Talk’ gatherings on a monthly basis.

“We need to start talking, so we can stop shooting,” Dr. Guns said. “We need to start talking, so we can start building. We can start protecting each other and enabling each other -- because at the end of the day, talking should always precede action.”

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