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Community Action Planning Session creates goals for action in Salisbury

By Shavonne Walker

shavonne.walker@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — Chris McNeil wants nothing more than to be part of the process and offer support to Rowan-Salisbury Schools.

McNeil, deputy principal at Knox Middle School, was one of a group of educators, community leaders, clergy, law enforcement and others who attended the city’s first Community Action Planning Session on Monday.

It was one of four scheduled throughout the month and comes two days after a Stop the Violence Summit.

The session was facilitated by Brenda Anderson, CEO of the Galilee Agency, a Charlotte-based organizational development and human performance consulting firm. Anderson opened the meeting with a brief discussion of the eight “planks” established in 2007 and what was accomplished then as well as areas that need improvement.

In 2007, the city hosted a series of gang summits following multiple violent incidents including the death of 13-year-old Treasure Feamster. The planks included mentoring, parental involvement, recreation programs and other areas.

McNeil said one of the most important issues for the group he was a part of — community relations — is improving the male presence in the community.

“In order to understand the problems, we have to be part of the solution,” he said.

After brainstorming about the issues and then creating goals, the group focused on increasing male involvement by connecting with organizations, churches, schools and clubs to form a unified effort to lower the number of absent male role models.

The crowd, which numbered just under 100, broke up into individual groups. They addressed children’s opportunities, community relations, workforce development and public safety.

Capt. Brian Stallings with the Salisbury Police Department was chosen as an ambassador for the public safety group. He said there were a lot of issues on the minds of those gathered. Groups spent just over half an hour coming up with one- and three-year goals.

The main area of focus from the public safety group, Stallings said, was involvement with the community from police.

“We aren’t going to be able to address the issues if we don’t get involved,” Stallings said.

“We have to address hard subjects to fix them, and we’ve got to follow up,” he said, saying that was the heart of what his group discussed.

The vision and focus areas for the sessions were developed over a two-month period of work sessions featuring more than 20 community stakeholders from organizations representing education, public safety and clergy.

Jim Williams, a resident of Kannapolis who works in Salisbury, said he has a heart for people and believes jobs in the long run could deter some criminal activity.

“People need things to do,” he said.

Williams cited the decline of the city of Detroit, which he pointed out began with the exodus of industry. He said most jobs there are geared toward the professional.

Williams said there needs to be a return blue-collar jobs.

Alisha Byrd, co-founder of Gemstones Academy and COMPASS (Confident, Optimistic, Motivated, Persistent, Assertive, Studious and Successful), was chosen as an ambassador.

Byrd said that of all the meetings that were held about the community moving forward, Monday’s was one of the most productive.

“Being able to have a start date was very important for our group. We talked about things, but to actually put it in forward motion. Being able to start now is so necessary in our community,” Byrd said.

She said she hopes the next meetings will be just as productive. “I don’t want it to be where we are stagnant because we’ve been stagnate too long,” she said.

Byrd also attended the first Stop the Violence Summit held at Livingstone College.

Artist and community advocate Whitney Peckman said she’s always interested in what’s going on in the community. She also attended the Stop the Violence Summit and said both are necessary.

“The Stop the Violence Summit is ongoing and is a powerful conversation starting from the people not from government,” Peckman said.

She said the action planning sessions started from the top.

Stop the Violence Summit

The summit, which was community-driven, was designed so participants can submit ideas, engage others and come up with solutions to the violence that has plagued the city. The summit came on the heels of multiple acts of gun violence in the city, particularly the death of 7-year-old A’yanna Allen, who was killed after someone fired into a bedroom where she was sleeping.

The summit had its roots in the Women for Community Justice, formerly Women for Police and Community Peace, which is a group that works to build trusting relationships between the community and government.

Organizer Alvena “Al” Heggins, founder of the Human Praxis Institute, a human relations firm that focuses on strategic planning, community development and conflict transformation, facilitated the start of the event. Heggins also heads up Women for Community Justice.

Participants then broke up into small group sessions.

The goal of the second summit was to identify short- and long-term actions to stem violence, form community committees, and set measurable goals. The second of three summits was held Saturday at Mission House Church and included some discussion of gang activity.

Salisbury Police Chief Jerry Stokes, who attended the second summit meeting, presented a summary of a report he recently gave to city officials at their annual retreat. Stokes’ presentation during the summit generated a significant amount of discussion.

Participants were very interested in the gang data and the ways the city is managing gang activity as well as intervention and enforcement. Some participants wanted to know what programs are offered to help ex-felons re-enter the community.

There were 83 people who attended the second summit, Heggins said, as many had conflicting schedules. The next summit will be from 9:30 a.m. to noon April 22 at EastSquare Artworks, 120 E. Innes St.

Next Community Action Planning Sessions

• 6-8 p.m. Thursday, Livingstone College.

• 10 a.m.-noon Saturday, Civic Center, 315 S. Martin Luther King Jr. Ave.

• 10 a.m.-noon April 29, Hurley YMCA, 828 W. Jake Alexander Blvd.

Child care will be provided at the two Saturday sessions.

Contact reporter Shavonne Walker at 704-797-4253.

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