LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Violence and poverty took center stage at a west Louisville forum on Wednesday.

It was part of "The West Louisville Forum: Solutions for Urban American" held at the St. Stephen Baptist Church Family Life Center.

The guest speaker was Dr. Nancy DiTomaso, professor from Rutgers University. She is a white woman but says racism is the root cause of violence and poverty in urban areas.

Thomas Queen, a freshman at Simmons College of Kentucky who listened to the Dr. DiTomaso's speech, said he was throwing his life away before he arrived on campus. 

"[I was] hanging with the wrong crowd, going to the wrong places, a lot of fighting, a lot of bad decisions, a lot of drugs," Queen said.

But a chance meeting with the president of Simmons, Dr. Kevin Cosby, changed his life.

"I told him my name, and he started telling me about my grandfather, which I never knew ... was a famous piano organist."

In addition to the family history lesson, Dr. Cosby gave Queen a second chance. That's something Dr. DiTomaso, a Rutgers Business School professor, says has been going on for years.

"We should be thinking about what good things whites do for other whites," she said.

Dr. DiTomaso was the guest speaker at Simmons' monthly forum. Her research on the root cause of violence and poverty in urban areas might be controversial to some because she believes it starts with whites.

"They use their family members, they use acquaintances, all of whom, of course, primarily look like them," Dr. DiTomaso said.

"When people do not have access to legitimate opportunities, then they engage in illegitimate opportunities," Dr. Cosby said.

That's why he believes helping people like Queen will change lives, the community and culture.

"People of good will should do the things that are necessary to get positive results, so that we can pull other Thomas Queens out of those situations," Dr. Cosby said.

"I don't hang in gangs no more," Queen said. "I don't talk to any of my old friends no more."

And now that Queen has changed his life, he wants to help others do the same.

"If I can go to school, anybody can."

Rev. Jesse Jackson will be the guest speaker for next month's west Louisville forum.

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