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Fight against costly gun violence must start early

Citizens stand up to speak at an Aug. 19 meeting at the Carl Russell Community Center on combating gun violence.

Fight against costly gun violence must start early
August 24
13:14 2022

By John Railey

Two related goals have developed in Winston-Salem and Forsyth County’s increasingly coordinated confrontation with gun violence: start early with youth, and address economic concerns tied to gun violence.

They are themes Forsyth County Sheriff Bobby Kimbrough has repeatedly voiced. More money is needed for after-school and summer programs, he has said, and banks with branches in the East Winston area should contribute. “Money is a game-changer,” he said at a June panel at Winston-Salem State University with WSSU’s Center for the Study of Economic Mobility (CSEM). “We can change this narrative.”

People, he said, have to see a pathway to better futures. “It’s not rocket science,” he said. “Social issues not addressed become criminal issues.”

Those themes resonated at an Aug. 10 meeting at the Carl Russell Community Center on strategies to confront gun violence, moderated by Northeast Ward Councilmember Barbara Hanes Burke as a follow-up to the first meeting she hosted on the issue, on May 25.

There was good news at the meeting: “From May 25 to July 31, police and deputies as well as state and federal law enforcement officers participated in the stepped-up patrols in the city’s neighborhoods with high rates of crime and gun violence,” Assistant Police Chief Wilson Weaver said the Winston-Salem Journal reported. “During that period, no homicides happened in Winston-Salem, as compared with eight homicides during the same period in 2021.” Law enforcement officials at the meeting suggested that increased patrols, including by the sheriff’s office in areas of heavy crime in the city, played a role in lack of homicides.

There have been 22 homicides so far this year in the city, the Journal reported. There were 23 at this point last year.

Just as important was the news that community organizations, in cooperation with the City of Winston-Salem, the Winston-Salem Police Department and the school system, have started several programs for youth in response to citizen calls for that at the first meeting. The programs concentrate on education, nutrition and employment.

Susan Frye, a former Forsyth County clerk of court who works with the sheriff’s office, Councilwoman Burke and the city’s recreation department reported on the progress of a reading program and its importance for children. “Once they fall behind, they feel like they’re not worthy anymore,” she said.

School Superintendent Tricia McManus said the school system has embarked on a new initiative emphasizing social and emotional learning. It will address problems students are having in school and outside of it, hopefully heading off violence. “We are teaching the whole child,” she said.

In an email, she wrote, “An explicit social and emotional curriculum was outlined as an important component in our district’s mental health plan.  As a result, students across pre-K through grade 12 will take part in lessons designed to teach SEL skills that are vital for school, work, and life success. Some of the skills include demonstrating empathy, effective problem solving, self-discipline, relationship building (being able to listen and communicate), kindness, and more.”

CSEM Associate Director Alvin Atkinson sees gun violence as a barrier to economic mobility – including the stress on students and their parents in schools and the workplace – and has positioned CSEM as a partner in the effort to reduce gun violence. CSEM researches educational inequities and helps at-risk youth through initiatives it supports, including YouthRise, GIDE, Project M.O.O.R.E., the Royal Curtain Drama Guild, the Triad International Ballet and Island CultureZ, which help youth with efforts ranging from speaking out to financial literacy to the arts to urban agriculture.

The school system’s new initiative on social and emotional learning dovetails with a push Atkinson is doing through the Winston-Salem Twin City Lions Club, Lions Quest. That push will take on pressures youth face, including poverty.

At the June meeting with CSEM, Sheriff Kimbrough said issues of hunger and educational inequalities are not being addressed. “I go in houses where kids are trying to figure out how to eat,” he said. “Then I go in other houses where you need a tour guide to show you around.”

At the recent meeting on gun violence, at which citizens talked about the poverty challenges, the sheriff told them: “Your presence and voices are required to change the narrative.”

Let’s hope the changing of the narrative has begun.

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

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