By Clyde Hughes | AC JosepH Media
MILLVILLE – Jonathan T. Burks, better know as simply J.T., doesn’t hesitate talking about growing up as a troubled youth in Cumberland County but now he wants to make sure that young people in the area know they can make a difference regardless of their beginnings.
Burks is living proof of his own words as a young leader of a nonprofit while sitting on the board of the Cumberland County Tech School and the Cumberland County Recreational Board.
“It got started as me growing up as a troubled youth myself,” Burks told Front Runner New Jersey this week. “I used to analyze everything I used to go through. When I became an adult, I said I wanted to fill in a gap that was missing in my childhood.”
As the founder of Positive Vibes Community Group, he guides the organization that for the past decade has provided sports opportunities, mentoring, dancing and other community events to youth.
“We just continue to push education and economics in our community,” Burks said.
Without a large entourage, Burks busied himself during the Culture Shop of South Jersey business expo event this past Sunday at the Alms Center in Bridgeton, selling t-shirts and sweatshirts to benefit this organization.
“He’s all about the community and making a difference,” said Cape May NAACP president Alexander Bland, who came to Burks table to lend support. “He’s someone living here being a positive in young people’s lives.”
Making A Difference
He said it was sports that helped make a difference in his life. His coaches and grandfather took him and other kids to Philadelphia Phillies and Philadelphia Eagles games. He said there, he saw how people of all races, classes and cultures came together to root for their favorite team and players.
“I would notice as an inner-city kid, nobody was worried about people’s color or background,” Burks said. “Everybody was just focused on the common interest at the time.”
Burks said he thought about the Bob Marley song “Good vibrations” and eventually developed the name Positive Vibes for his nonprofit.
“It’s where like-minded individuals can come together in the same community to see if we can move together and be a positive in our community,” Burks said.
Burks said Positive Vibes has about 60 adults and kids involved in Millville and the surrounding area.
“We have mentors come in from Bridgeton and Vineland as well,” Burks said. “We teach them about exploring, fishing, hunting, sports and science. We want them to know there’s more the world has to offer. Positive Vibes are better together.”
In an August interview at a local radio station, Burks said what kids want most is authentic advocates, people who care about them and their parents. He said no matter how long they have to kids, if they are put in the same negative environment, it will have a negative impact on them, so his goal is try to engage the entire family.
After the stunning and tragic shooting death of Midget League football coach Joseph “JoJo” Jones in August 2018 in front of his young players, Burks helped organize counseling sessions for children and families involved.
Burks found a way to work through his own grief while still coaching the team, comforting parents, and showing great inner courage. Burks was selected a Hometown Hero by SNJ Today in 2019 for his community work.
Burks has been caught the attention of local leaders in the community. In 2018, Millville City Commissioner Bruce Cooper honored Burks with the first Unity in the Community Award. Cooper called him at the time a “great spirit in the community.”
Vice Mayor James Parent spoke highly of Burks as week. He said he heard Burks speak to youth several times and said it was “very rewarding” to see Burks receive such an honor because he was touching children’s lives and making a real impact.
This year, Burks and Positive Vibes held its fourth annual Players vs Drugs, Guns & Gangs flag football event.
“It was just to start … a culture of letting the kids know that it’s cool to do something positive as a group from different backgrounds and different parts of the city,” Burks told SNJ Today about his event.
It seems that the sky is the limit for Burks and helping youth, proving the old sports adage, it’s not how you start the game, but how you finish.
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