Every afternoon around 3:45pm the kids hurry to the recreation center to start their after school program and almost daily they are greeted by a towering 6-foot-7-inch man with long, silver-lined dreadlocks known as Paul “Big South” Taylor. One by one they acknowledge him as “South” while signing in as they proceed to the designated homework area.
Big South has helped to transform King-Greenleaf Recreation Center into one of the most utilized and productive sites in the city. Not so long ago the center was underutilized as well as centered in a highly crime ridden area of our community. With innovative programming and partnerships with such organizations as Sasha Bruce, Roving Leaders, and local law enforcement (First District), this recreation center is now a safe haven for our youth and has evolved into a modern marvel. Paul believes that all youth deserve a right to have a local outlet to go to and exercise with leisure, just as he did coming up as a youth at the #4 Boys/Girls Club and the old King-Greenleaf Recreation Center. Paul is the founder and CEO of the SW Youth Foundation (SWYF) – an organization that provides an array of mentoring, educational, and recreational activities for SW youth. Since its inception in 2007, the SWYF has provided job opportunities for over 50 youth and young adults. In 2010 SWYF landed a community grant that initiated the well known “Groups and Hoops” program that provide workshops on life skills, resume writing, keynote speakers, healthy living, and a late night summer basketball tournament.
I have had the pleasure to sit in on some of the life-skill sessions with the Groups and Hoops participants. The subject matter was open and interesting with lots of enthusiastic participation. Every discussion is solution oriented, and coated with an awareness for change. They talked about the negativity in usage of social media such as Facebook and the problem with online bullying. Alternatives would be to use social media to promote positive energy, such as who has been accepted into college and expected graduates and graduations. I have listened to discussions about the rationale behind material values. For example, expensive tennis shoes and $300 cell phones, as opposed to owning a computer. Big South talks about taking advantage of opportunities in life that are within the control of our young people. He encourages our youth to commit to seeing themselves as the conscious creators of their own destiny. Regularly I bear witness to his enlightenment and impression on our youth as to the importance of education being the key to self-improvement, and becoming a productive person in society. Undoubtedly, Big South has the uncanny ability to capture the attention of our youth in a way that is genuine and heartfelt.
Paul has dedicated his life to serving the youth in our community because he understands the importance of nurturing young people to become productive early on in life. Big South knows that everyone makes mistakes – he admits that he made his own mistakes in his youth – but has pledged to give back to the youth in his community by being a positive role model.
There is no shortage of youth in the Southwest community, however, there is a shortage of dedicated adults needed to help serve them. We ask that all adults take time to volunteer at the local community center, regardless of the misconceptions of uncontrollable teenagers. We ask that we come together as one community to bridge that generation gap. Not with preconceived, prejudiced dispositions, but with a mindset willing to learn from and help one another.
Big South is now employed as a Recreation Specialist at King-Greenleaf Recreation Center. He also serves as the President of the revitalized Southwest Family Unity Day Committee. Rightfully so, this is how it should be: a hard-working gentle giant with a gentlemen’s touch.
By Wallace Perry, Retired Roving Leader