There is a new resource for local youth. Frankie Bledsaw, owner of BigDawg Cutz in Stuttgart, started the BigDawg/LilDawg program to mentor young people. The program will take place every Sunday from 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. at the Bledsaw Barber Shop at 1810 S. Park Ave. in Stuttgart or other locations in the city, depending on the planned activities.
“We want to do everything we can to try to stop (teenagers) going to jail and keep them on track to find a job. We want to make sure they graduate on time and don’t fall through the system,” Bledsaw said.
When he was younger, Bledsaw committed crimes and served time in prison. He has since changed his life dramatically, and now he encourages young people to avoid the mistakes he once made.
“I was a gang member and drug dealer in Stuttgart, so I know the streets well,” Bledsaw said. “A lot of kids here really know me. For them to see me trying to interact with them and giving them something to do is really necessary here.
Juvenile crime peaked in Stuttgart last year, prompting a Stop the Violence rally. The event was held in honor of Omarion Bones, an 18-year-old former student from Stuttgart who was shot and killed in the city. Bledsaw spoke at the event and continued to champion anti-violence efforts.
“Stuttgart is a small community. With the crimes that have taken place, everyone knows everyone. Everyone knows the situation,” Bledsaw said. “Even though some of these guys were involved in these crimes, we want to bring them together and show them that we still care about them as well. We care about their well-being. We want them to make better choices instead of the choices they are making now.
Bledsaw wants local youth to see the risks associated with drugs and gang involvement.
“I even plan to take them to the county jail to go on a tour with some of the kids who have had issues. It would just let them know what could really be in store for them if they went out and made the wrong choices in life,” Bledsaw said.
In addition to young people from Stuttgart, young men from Hazen, DeWitt, Humphrey, Pine Bluff and other nearby areas have already attended events planned by Bledsaw. On Easter Sunday, Bledsaw held an egg hunt and splat ball tournament.
“We had about 70 children on Easter Sunday. At the second event, about 56 kids showed up,” Bledsaw said.
Every week, Bledsaw plans some sort of tournament or activity. He gives money to winners from his own wallet.
“Coming as a juvenile, I wasn’t lucky enough to really have any money like that. There was nothing going on where we could earn it other than breaking into people’s homes, robbing people and things like that. I just try to make sure they keep money in their pockets every week,” Bledsaw said.
There are two age categories to give all participants a chance to win rewards.
“You want it to be fair so that every age group has the opportunity to win prizes every week. We also do 9-12 and 13-18 year olds,” Bledsaw said.
Although Bledsaw is the main mentor for the BigDawg/LilDawg program, other members of the community have helped out. Alderman Joe Alexander, Jr., and Larry Cox helped Bledsaw spark young people’s interest. Bledsaw’s wife Cachet was also instrumental in the program.
“They helped me out, picked up some of the guys and brought them to the store,” Bledsaw said.
Parents of participating students can stay and volunteer during the mentorship program. Bledsaw said a dad recently helped out at an event and was grateful for the support.
“Any help I can get would be greatly appreciated. I encourage all dads to bring their sons. That way we can all sit down and mentor them,” Bledsaw said. “I just want the community to come together, and do better.”
Anyone interested in volunteering or with questions about the program can contact Bledsaw by calling 870-830-4328 or 501-539-7211. Information about upcoming events can be found on the Bledsaw Facebook page.