Editorial: Pages from community’s history can serve as guide

Published 12:10 am Sunday, January 2, 2022

Four or five years ago, shortly after a new group of commissioners took office, Rowan County began a series of initiatives to create a sense of shared community values around economic development and quality of life goals.

There were committees and large public meetings with keynote speakers. Attendance was good, and there seemed to be some tangible results in the form of recommendations and new community cooperation.

“Everyone in this community knows that we could and should be doing better,” County Commissioners Chairman Greg Edds said after a meeting of the Growing Rowan initiative meeting in 2017. “It’s not like we’re sitting here with no assets. We know that we’re underperforming. So we’re trying to figure out how we use those assets to their full potential.”

In conjunction with a Growing Rowan initiative, Commissioners Chairman Greg Edds and Vice Chairman Jim Greene traveled around the county to get support for a “declaration of interdependence.” The pair succeeded in getting support from all of the county’s municipalities and paired it with a general attitude that cooperation was critical for the well-being of the community.

Salisbury did nearly the same thing in 2017 for a different reason, organizing a series of Stop the Violence summits, breaking into small groups, brainstorming ideas and coming up with solutions.

The meetings came just a few months after 7-year-old A’yanna Allen was shot and killed while she slept. But it also came during a particularly violent time for the city.

“I’m tired of every weekend hearing about somebody I know my age or I went to school with getting shot,” Ebony Fair said in 2017 after attending the first summit.

The Salisbury-Rowan community should take pages from its own history book to address a serious issue it’s faced this year — a surge in gun violence.

There are hundreds of community members who have volunteered their spare time and made room in their schedules to walk the streets, hand out flyers, talk to strangers and serve as mentors for children who need them in the years since the 2017 summit. But it will take more.

Curing violence in the community requires more than metal detectors, Cease Fire programs, law enforcement officers in schools, the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education approving new plans or harsh charges for people who commit heinous crimes. Those are only remedies for symptoms of the deeper problems in our community.

As many people have said following the shooting during a basketball tournament at Catawba College, it starts at home with stable, nurturing families and neighborhoods that look out for the well-being of their neighbors. It requires community members to step up as mentors for children who need them and volunteers to connect young adults to resources that can help them prosper after school.

Al Heggins, then just a Salisbury resident, said it well in a Feb. 28, 2017 letter to a number of elected officials also published in the Post (“Let’s have a Stop the Violence Summit”). Heggins and Women for Community Justice were key organizers of the Stop the Violence summits.

“We have to own the fact that we play a part in setting the tone in our communities,” she wrote. “We’ve got to be responsible for our children and our neighbors’ children if that is what it takes. When crime is committed, we need to find a safe way to report it.”

The cure violence model, which candidates talked about during the 2021 campaign, addresses violence like a health problem and uses methods associated with disease control. It may be a critical part of permanently turning the tide of violence crime in Salisbury, which was making major progress prior to the pandemic.

It requires more volunteers for programs we’ve already seen in our community.

By turning people to the internet and social media as a primary mode of communication, the pandemic has frayed ties that hold our community together because of the divisiveness that easily festers there. It’s important to find ways to bring people back to groups like Man Up Monday and Woman Up Wednesday, civic clubs, nonprofit organizations and other volunteer opportunities. That could be as simple as bringing a friend to a meeting.

Many steps the community will take won’t be directly related to gun violence, but that’s because solutions need to find roots long before the first bullet is fired.