The results of seven community meetings focused on reducing youth gun violence in Wilmington were published by the City of Wilmington on April 1 in the format of a report offering recommendations.
Held at various community centers from November 2013 to February 2014, the meetings were designed to start a discussion about the increasing youth gun violence levels in the city, said Linda Rawley, Wilmington Police Department public information officer.
“We received such an influx of gang violence that we knew we needed to respond quickly and begin looking at this,” Rawley said during a Tuesday, April 8 phone interview. “The discussions helped us to realize the state of affairs of our young people and it also helped to shed light on some of the programs we have that are working and the need for additional programs.”
Key observations from the discussions outlined in the report included the need for an effective pre-kindergarten through 12th-grade system, better matching of resource providers in the community with those they would serve and youth access to technical education.
The 29 recommendations mentioned at the end of the report ranged from immediate to long-term solutions. Immediate solutions included tasks like increasing volunteerism and making financial commitments to agencies supporting children. Short-term solutions included increasing school safety, improving the literacy rate and implementing cultural training for law enforcement officers and teachers. Solutions that would be more long-term included providing better teacher pay, building and staffing more recreation facilities and shifting funding away from incarceration and enforcement expenses to early education initiatives.
While there were some new ideas voiced during the discussions, Rawley said much of what she and Wilmington City Manager Sterling Cheatham gathered was what they expected.
“It was pretty much a lot of what we thought … for the most part there were no surprises,” she said. “If anything it got a lot more information out about programs that people were not even aware of.”
Although there was an increase in the sharing of information between those organizations and the community, Rawley said she would have liked to see more participation from the youth the discussions were focused on.
“We should have included the young people more in the planning of each meeting and on the panels because we are talking about preventing gang violence and youth,” Rawley said. “Young people can tell you better than anybody else what they need to survive.”
City Manager Sterling Cheatham said the discussions served their intended purpose but the report was only the beginning. Cheatham cited developments like private sector funding of the Building Educated Leaders for Life pilot program at D.C. Virgo Preparatory Academy this summer as an early win.
“Saving our children and our neighborhoods will be the finish,” Cheatham stated in a Tuesday, April 8 email.
Wilmington public information officer Malissa Talbert said the next step for the report would be to solicit public reaction to its findings. Two options for gathering those opinions will be a survey sent out by the city via email and a public comment workshop on Tuesday, April 29.
While Cheatham stated additional funding is the most obvious way to help implement the report’s recommendations, he called on the private sector, public sector and other key stakeholders like family members to work together to help bring change.
“Succeeding steps must include leadership of the key stakeholders and every citizen in our community to find and fill a role,” he stated. “This is not just a city or county problem but a full community opportunity, including the business and nonprofit communities.”