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The young lives they are trying to save

The young lives they are trying to save
October 13
12:52 2021

By John Railey

The girls hop out of a family member’s car and run up the steps of the porch, rushing through the front of Project M.O.O.R.E just off Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, happy to be there for a new after-school program.

 “We’re going to have fun!” one shouts.

Fun. It seems a simple enough concept. It should be a given for the young. But in East Winston, where gunshots are as common as the squeak of swings on a set, it can be elusive. Young lives get lost, some to bullets, some to wrong turns that lead to drugs and jail. The young run out of fun and grow old too fast.

David Moore, who leads Project M.O.O.R.E., is determined to change that. The project, supported by Winston-Salem State University’s Center for the Study of Economic Mobility (CSEM), seeks to help at-risk youth by starting them in training for careers in music, cosmetology and barbering. Lately, it has also been concentrating on reducing gun violence, aligning with CSEM in that respect. 

Project M.O.O.R.E and CSEM realize that gun violence, in addition to its heavy human costs, also has heavy financial costs. Students and parents stressed from it may find it hard to concentrate in school and at work.

There have been 24 homicides already this year in Winston-Salem, and more than 100 shootings. In response, David Moore has launched a new after-school program for girls, Tiny Creators. It gives them a safe place to learn and play. The nine girls in the 12-week program, ranging in age from 11 to 14, learn hair braiding and nail work from leader Dante Watlington. She leads them in walks around the neighborhood, and in basketball games. She teaches them to avoid dangerous people and situations, and to stay out of trouble.

“I don’t cut any corners with them,” she said. “I emphasize education. Stay in school and don’t get in trouble. Once you get a record, it stays with you like your name.”

She and Moore know of what they speak. Years ago, Moore did time for drug trafficking. He turned his life around, establishing Southside Rides, a local nonprofit that employs ex-offenders in auto body repair. Project M.O.O.R.E. is an initiative of Southside Rides.

Watlington’s record includes convictions of assault and hit-and-run. Encouraging successful reentry – ex-offenders rebuilding their lives with decent jobs –  is a bedrock of CSEM’s work.

Watlington said Moore has been very supportive of her. “He’s showing me the way,” she said. “I have a past. I’m not perfect. I want a better me. I want to stay on track,” said Watlington, a 29-year-old mother of two who cleans houses for a living and attends Forsyth Technical Community College.

She loves working with the Tiny Creators program. “They’re trying to figure out which way to go,” she said. “I’m helping with that, telling them not to make the bad decisions I made. I don’t sugarcoat nothing with them. I tell it like it is. They’re helping me find my better self. They suffer from bullying, and things that go on at home. The girls, they trust me, I’ve gained their trust.”

CSEM is aligning with community efforts to reduce gun violence. As CSEM Associate Director Alvin Atkinson has said, “Feeling safe at home should be a given, not a luxury for those in well-resourced neighborhoods.”

CSEM has helped lead the Winston-Salem relaunch of the My Brother’s/Sister’s Keeper initiative, of which the group Action 4 Equity is becoming community coordinator. The initiative will join in the effort to reduce gun violence. A new grassroots initiative, The Women’s Gun Violence Prevention Team, is also on the case. The Forsyth County Cure Violence Program, by way of coordinating, is surveying local nonprofits on their anti-violence efforts.

At the heart of this overall effort, as well as the Tiny Creators initiative, is a shared belief, that all lives, especially young ones, are precious, and that we should never become numb to the human and financial costs of gun violence.

John Railey, raileyjb@nullgmail.com, is the writer-in-residence for CSEM, www.wssu.edu/csem.

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