ONLINE UPDATE: After-school programs, nonprofit collaboration discussed at crime forum

by Sam Wilson
Monday, December 2, 2013

During the latest in a series of community forums held by the City of Wilmington to discuss the recent rise in violent crime, many speakers appeared to agree that while the range of nonprofits in the community has the capacity to provide alternatives for at-risk youth, they are not collaborating enough.

“I think one thing is communication; there are a lot of different programs that are out there,” Dr. Tim Markley, New Hanover County Schools Superintendent said after the two-hour forum held Monday in the fifth-floor ballroom of Cape Fear Community College’s new Union Station building downtown.

Markley, along with county district court judge James Faison and Wilmington Housing Authority Board Chair Jeff Hovis, sat at a panel in front of about 80 community members in attendance. Seated at about twenty tables throughout the room, local citizens, elected officials and representatives from the public and nonprofit sectors chimed in with their concerns and ideas about how education can play a bigger role in steering people away from lives of crime.

“Every time I come to these forums, there are not too many people of my generation that are having these conversations and are sitting at these tables,” Fatina Mann, who works with the Carousel Center in Wilmington, said. “We all have something to say, and we all have things we want to do, but if we don’t get adequate buy-in from the people in those communities, it doesn’t matter what you say or what resources you have.”

Mann added that people receiving subsidized housing and other services in those communities should be made more aware of other services being offered by organizations to help them pull themselves out of poverty.

Kenston J. Griffin, a motivational speaker, trainer and CEO of Charlotte-based Dream Builders Communication, Inc., was invited by the City of Wilmington to moderate the forum. He said the city contacted him and expressed an interest in contracting his services to bring together ideas from the community and work in the communities hardest-hit by violence in recent months.

“I’ve heard a lot of great things, but I’m hearing more around communication,” he said at the end of the meeting. “I’m hearing that the resources are in the city … [but] everybody might not know where all the resources are.”

Those seated at each of the tables filled out sheets during the forum, identifying issues of concern and potential solutions for them. Griffin said those responses would be collected, and after 90 days they would have a summary of the main problems and proposals brought up during the forum.

“I wish I had heard that tough conversation: ‘This is great, but what’s next?” he said of the table discussion period prior to the panel discussion.

For next steps, he said he would recommend identifying the main issues of concern from the attendees’ responses, and selecting a spokesperson from important resource areas to continue the conversation in the affected communities.

Referring to better communication between nonprofits, Faison noted that such collaboration could also help improve the criminal justice system.

“Once we know what the resources are – that is, what nonprofits and services they are able to provide – then I can make it a condition of probation,” he said. “And they’ll go to, for example, Cape Fear Literacy Council to learn how to read. Or they can get their GED.”

Another theme discussed by the panel was the need for elementary and middle school students to have better access to programs outside of school, as well as better role models for children growing up with less family support.

In response to an audience member pointing to increased criminalization of behavior in schools as a result of more officers being placed in schools, Markley that an unintended, but positive consequence of the policy had been that children were developing positive relationships with many of the police officers at an early age.

“The kids started to see some of those police officers as the male role figure in that building,” he said. “I think if the students see the officers in the building it will help build those relationships.”

Markley said afterward that he looked forward to participating in the next forum, scheduled for Jan. 22, which will be hosted by the county and will focus on mental health.

“When we see the kids in some of these schools, they’re bringing a lot of these issues with them,” he said. “So I think things need to change with regard to how we address them in school.”

Markley added that sustaining the public turnout to future meetings also concerned him, echoing a point that had been made earlier by Griffin. Two forums were held last month, each attracting hundreds of participants.

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