Summit participants explore ways to reduce violence
By Shavonne Walker
SALISBURY — Ebony Fair thought long and hard about moving back to Salisbury after leaving nearly two years ago. Her reluctance wasn’t because she didn’t think she could find housing or transition into new surroundings, but it was because of fear — fear that she or her children could meet violence head-on like so many others.
“I’m tired of every weekend hearing about somebody I know my age or I went to school with getting shot,” she said, cradling her daughter.
Fair eventually did move back, but said she definitely doesn’t want her children and nephew to grow up in a violent community.
Fair was one of 200 people who attended the Stop the Violence Summit because she wanted to be part of a solution.
The event, which was held Saturday at Livingstone College’s Tubman Little Theatre and was an opportunity for city, county, school, clergy and others with concerns to come together to talk about and find solutions to the violence.
The idea for the summit began organically after summit coordinator Alvena “Al” Heggins, founder of the Human Praxis Institute and head of the organization Women for Community Justice, wrote an open letter to city and county officials.
Heggins begged officials to sit down and partner with Women for Community Justice and Human Praxis Institute for a summit to brainstorm ideas and come up with solutions. The Salisbury-Rowan branch of the NAACP is also a host of the event.
The Human Praxis Institute is a human relations firm that focuses on strategic planning, conflict transformation and community development, including training and workshops on diversity and social/racial equity.
Fair said she doesn’t want to have to worry about her children or other children. She said she “doesn’t want what happened to A’yanna Allen to happen to them or anybody.”
Allen, 7, was shot multiple times on the morning of Dec. 4 while she slept. Her death came after an earlier shooting at a gathering outside of Firewater Bar & Lounge. Her death and the deaths of others have prompted community leaders, clergy and others to seek solutions to put an end to the violence.
Heggins said the goal was for the community to walk away with an action plan to mitigate the violence. She said it started years ago with the death of Treasure Feamster. Feamster, a 13-year-old, was shot in 2007 after being caught in the crossfire of gang shootings during a teen party.
“We want the community members to feel safe,” she said.
Although there were city, county, and school officials in attendance, the summit as made up mostly of concerned residents from every racial makeup and socioeconomic background. Heggins said she hoped during the break-out sessions that people would meet others with different viewpoints and opinions and “begin to engage in what their concerns are.”
Organizers didn’t want the groups who met to just talk about their differences, but to come up with solutions and the best way to implement those solutions.
“I think we owe it to our community to find different ways to stop the violence,” said school board member Alisha Byrd.
She said this type of event was very much needed. Byrd and Alex Clark are founders of GEMSTONES Academy, a nonprofit leadership academy for girls and boys and COMPASS, which stands for Confident, Optimistic, Motivated, Persistent, Assertive, Studious and Successful.
“My sincerest hope is that people start being more cognizant of what’s going on in their neighborhood and for people in the community to come together with real action plans,” Clark said.
Veleria Levy, a representative of Avita Pharmacy, one of the events’ sponsors, said her 12-year-old son worries about her traveling into the city of Salisbury at night from their Rowan County home. She said he’s afraid for her safety, Levy said.
Levy was also a volunteer at the event and said she wanted to do what she could to help.
Leilani Annand, who operated as a session facilitator, said the goal of the sessions was to discuss positive solutions that she hoped would generate some ideas.
“We want to be conduits for the hope and thoughts of people of this community,” said Tony Lowe, another session facilitator.
Contact reporter Shavonne Walker at 704-797-4253.