Other voices: Grassroots action on gun violence deserves support

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 3, 2021

The violence that has affected youth in some of the forgotten areas, much of it exacerbated by easy access to firearms, has not affected most of us in a personal way.

We read about it and it sounds like something from a cable TV drama set in Baltimore.

But for the people who experience it, it’s real and it’s tragic. Lives lost to gun violence are adjacent to lives lost to poverty, to a dearth of opportunity and hope, to a scarcity of family stability and community resources to promote better ways of living.

Those factors have contributed to the 29 homicides that have occurred in Winston-Salem so far this year, many of the victims young men under 40.

Like 35-year-old Te’Ore Eugene Terry, shot on Feb. 14.

And Jaheim Davis, 18, who was killed in July.

And 15-year-old William Miller Jr., the Mount Tabor High School student who was fatally shot on Sept. 1.

These deaths leave further victims in their wake, including their parents, who mourn for the rest of their lives, and other children who must live with the dread that they may be next.

Schools can only do so much. Police can only do so much.

Newspaper editorials can do even less.

But the people who live there and are willing — the community leaders, the teachers and coaches, the mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters — they can do something. They might just save their communities.

And their chances grow if the rest of us offer them support.

A rally organized last Sunday at Blum Park by the Women’s Gun Violence Prevention Coalition showcased a handful of community leaders and organizations that are stepping up to put “boots on the ground” in an effort to reach young people and direct them away from violence.

Participants included representatives of Lit City, a youth development initiative, and other organizations such as Authoring Action, Action 4 Equity, New Life/Nueva Vida, Enough is Enough and 10,000 Fearless of Winston-Salem.

Tricia McManus, the superintendent of Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools, was there also, as well as Forsyth County Commissioner Fleming El-Amin, both prepared to listen, learn and act.

They’re just a few of those who are working on solutions and who are also asking Winston-Salem and Forsyth County to boost their support in the form of grant money.

Forsyth County now has access to $56 million from the American Rescue Plan Act, part of the $350 billion doled out earlier this year at the height of the pandemic, but not yet spent. It’s “once-in-a-generation” money intended to help us recover from the worst economic effects of the pandemic.

There’s a firm case to be made that the pandemic has contributed to increased violence, domestic and other forms, in our community. Considering the fear and uncertainty associated with COVID, accompanied by the loss of some economic opportunities, that shouldn’t be surprising.

Many of the groups that are applying for grant money to assist their efforts have not only experience and expertise, but the trust of the community. They’ve just been short on funds.

“Our anchor institutions are very important, but the grassroots groups have programs but don’t have the resources or capacity to do the work to make an impact,” Nakida McDaniel with the Women’s Gun Violence Prevention Coalition told the Journal’s Lisa O’Donnell last week. “They can make change but not an impact. That’s why it’s important to have them involved. They resonate with people on the ground. And they’re the ones who can turn it around. We have to figure out a way for people who do this work to get funded and paid.”

“Young boys are dying. You got the numbers. Give us the tools,” David Villada, the founder and director of nonprofit New Life/Nueva Vida, told county commissioners earlier this month.

Many of these groups have been active for years, mentoring young people, providing them with recreational activities and educational resources as well as food and clothing. But those resources are limited.

And the needs are many — these organizations will be competing with plenty of others for access to the ARPA funds.

It’s important for commissioners to vet the organizations, to verify their capabilities and effectiveness.

But it’s hard to imagine a more worthy cause than saving the lives we know will be lost if someone doesn’t intervene. Organizations that can save children from lives of violence and destitution deserve our support.

— Winston-Salem Journal