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Summit designed to stem the tide of youth violence

Ashley McKnight-Taylor

Nearly 100 Suffolkians, and some people from outside the area, gathered Wednesday night to discuss the complex issue of youth violence in the city.

WTKR News Channel 3 and Citizens United for the Improvement of the Community sponsored the Youth Summit at the Union Hall on W. Washington Street. Residents gathered to discuss what fuels youth violence and some possible solutions.

A panel of experts and local community figures lead the discussion, offering their advice and knowledge. The panel included: A.J. Parker, father of Deshawn O. Parker, who was shot and killed in January; Sean Bowers, creator of the Power of Dreams Blueprint; Domenick Epps, with Youth on FYE; Theotis Porter, an artist and local substitute teacher; Lori Hobson, counselor at Norfolk State University; Lisa Duez, executive director of Neighbor to Family; and Belinda Evans, secretary/treasurer of the local 24/26 Union.

The top floor of the hall nearly packed at times, as people filtered in and out throughout the evening. The Summit, which was scheduled from 4:30 to 6 p.m., ran until almost 7 p.m. It was a mixture of youngsters and adults.

While they did not find any specific answers, most agreed that youth violence is a problem that requires personal responsibility. Teens need to stand up against negative peer pressure and notify adults of other teens with guns. Adults need to make themselves available to teens and watch for signs that they are headed down a dark path. Churches and community groups need to throw their services somewhere in the mix.

Bowers’ approach is to start with the individual, echoing the overall sentiment of being proactive. After all, he said, “A kid with a dream is no longer a discipline problem.”

Tyron Ridd, a ninth grader at King’s Fork High School, was the first and most vocal of the teens present to take the microphone.

“Do not be afraid to say you represent Jesus,” he told his peers at the meeting. “Be yourself, and do not be afraid to be yourself.”

Ridd has attended several city council meetings, appealing to councilmen to provide some form of recreation for youth in Suffolk.

“We do not have anything in the city of Suffolk at all to do,” he said before asking those on the panel to consider banding together to offer an event for teens.

“Now you have the younger generation that don’t have anything but violence,” Ridd said.

That theme of lack of outlets for entertainment and recreation ran throughout the evening. Epps lamented the closing of Birdsong Recreation Center. James Baker waved around Polaroid’s of an empty field that he said should be turned into a park. Linda Brown, president of the Walnut Hill Civic League, suggested turning the old Lowe’s on Pruden Boulevard into a recreation center.

Parker said if people want more entertainment on the south side of the railroad tracks, then they have to make their voices heard and taxpayer status felt by voting for new representation on city council.

“I don’t believe in talk,” he said. “Talk is cheap.”

Parker said he plans to team up with employer Mike Duman to implement a gun-amnesty program and hotline for people to notify authorities of people who have weapons. “The key thing is to get guns off the street.”

He also wants to organize a National Night Out on the anniversary of his son’s death.

“If it saves one life, at least one life’s been saved,” he said.

A few other people offered solid attempts to help.

Carlos Howard, originally from Suffolk, now owns a funeral home in Norfolk. He said he’d pony up $5,000 for an organization or project as long as it was for the development of young people or the benefit of the city.

Maiyah Olivas, who practices alternative counseling techniques and acupressure, offered to teach a course free for seven weeks if someone could provide a location for her on Thursdays.

Capt. Mark Banks, commanding officer of the Salvation Army, pointed out that his organization does host some alternative programs. Every Friday from 3-7 p.m. at the 400 Bank St. location boys can get a haircut and refreshments. This summer they plan to run boys’ and girls’ track teams, as well as transport young people to a sports camp in Fredericksburg.

Parker said it was great to see the number of people that came out for the Summit. He said he just hoped everyone would stick with it to help them complete the dream for a safer Suffolk.

In the words of Theotis Porter: “Don’t just talk about it, be about it.”