HAGERSTOWN — A person who has served in positions of authority, John E. Wetzel knows what youths face as they begin to make their way in the world.
Wetzel, who has worked as the warden of the Franklin County Jail and is poised to become secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, spoke Sunday during the YMCA Community Black History Program at the Bridge of Life church on South Potomac Street.
Wetzel, who is black, had some straight talk for youths in the audience.
Wetzel said he believes that Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream that someday his children would not be judged by the color of their skin will come true.
Wetzel also told youths there will be people who mistreat them and seek to undermine their efforts.
“There will be some people who do this and have the ability to do this because they’re in positions of power,” he said.
But Wetzel told the youths that they have no excuse to fall prey to the situations because they now know “the playing field.”
Wetzel told the youths that there are times when they will have to work harder, be smarter and “run a 100-yard race when you know you got to run 200 yards. We know that.”
He recalled the time when he applied for the job of warden of the Franklin County Jail.
He made the long drive to Chambersburg, saw the statues of Confederate soldiers in the middle of town and went into the courthouse. Dressed in a suit, Wetzel said he went to an information desk to ask how to get to a commissioners office for his interview.
“What do you think the lady said to me? I know, you’re looking for a courtroom,” Wetzel said.
Wetzel said he recalled telling himself, “‘I’m never coming back.’”
“Two months later, I was the warden,” Wetzel told the crowd, who responded with applause.
The ceremony at the church Sunday was held to recognize adults and students involved in the YMCA Achievers Program for Minority Students.
The program used to be known as the Black Achievers program but its name was changed to reflect more diversity among students, said Darnel Shaffer, president of the organization’s steering committee.
The achievers program, which is part of a national program that began at the Harlem, N.Y., YMCA in 1971, connects adult role models with students to help the youths set career and educational goals. It is also intended to turn idle time among youths into productive time.