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County commissioner’s work informed by loss to gun violence

Trayvon McDaniel at Myrtle Beach.

County commissioner’s work informed by loss to gun violence
December 08
12:07 2022

By John Railey

Forsyth County Commissioner Tonya McDaniel carries her son Trayvon’s legacy as she combats gun violence. Trayvon passed away 11 years ago when he was 22 to gun violence in a bizarre incident. “I’ll never really know what it was really all about,” McDaniel said. “I do know, I want to do my part to reduce gun violence and try to save some families from the grief my family carries.”

There have been almost 30 homicides in Winston-Salem this year, most involving guns, and numerous gun assaults.

McDaniel embraces a holistic approach, including the Cure Violence initiative that the county and the City of Winston-Salem adopted in October. “Many months in the making, the program works by using trained ‘violence interrupters’ and outreach workers to identify and mediate potential conflicts, working separately from law enforcement in order to maintain trust with the people they are trying to reach,” the Winston-Salem Journal reported. The city and county will split the costs of the two-year, $1 million program.

McDaniel said she also supports her board’s allocation of $17.9 million in county, state, and federal funds to a Health and Human Services Campus on Highland Avenue. The campus is dedicated to transforming the community to provide mental health and substance abuse services, a crisis center, a park with coordinated community programming, and a renovated auditorium for community programming, especially for youth.

That holistic approach aligns with the efforts of Winston-Salem State University’s Center for the Study of Economic Mobility (CSEM), which sees gun violence as a barrier to economic mobility.  

McDaniel knows that world well. She wants to help the families find help before it’s too late as it was for her.

Trayvon was McDaniel’s middle child. He not only brought joy and happiness to her, she said, he also shared a special place in her heart. Everybody loved him, she said, and called him “Tray Love.” When he attended high school, like so many others then and now, she said, Trayvon “Fell into the wrong crowd.” He dropped out of Carver High School his senior year, where he took a path that ultimately led to him making bad decisions into his early adult life. “It was mostly fighting,” McDaniel said. “He wasn’t a bad child. He wouldn’t start fights, but if someone else did, he would finish it.” 

Trayvon worked in fast food restaurants and lived with his little sister and McDaniel in a single-parent home. When his behavior exacerbated, she would sometimes have to ask him to leave, she said.

Due to Trayvon’s irreconcilable behavior, McDaniel said, he went to live with Stephon Lavell Royster in July 2011. On July 17, Winston-Salem Police received a call about the armed robbery of a convenience store. Police chased Trayvon and Stephon into a wooded area. They determined that Stephon shot Trayvon in the head, instantly killing him. Stephon then turned the gun on himself and died several minutes later.

“The details of what happened I will never know. I will never know what my child was missing or what he was looking for,” McDaniel said. Among the loved ones he left behind was his one-month-old son, Jordan.

In the days after Trayvon’s death, McDaniel learned he was a gang member. “As a single mom, just staying afloat, maybe I missed it,” she said. 

During the funeral, several of Trayvon’s friends turned their lives around soon after his death, McDaniel said, and have continued on good paths. She hopes that Cure Violence and the Health and Human Services Campus will help many more. “We’re trying to delve more into the socio-economic issues of gun violence, into the root causes, and design real transformative change in the community,” McDaniel said. “Mental health is important, that’s half the battle, especially in minority communities. We don’t talk about it, but that needs to change.” She uses a life coach, she said, to help her deal with Trayvon’s loss.

She works against gun violence for Trayvon’s son, alongside her two granddaughters. “We want a place where young ones, instead of picking up guns, can pick up a phone and find a safe place to talk. Instead of lives being lost,” McDaniel said. She said the motto that drives her is, “If our community is to be, it’s up to you and me.”

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

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