Community action meeting set for tonight

Published 9:43 pm Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Leaders of some of the city’s civic groups and community organizations will get together again tonight to discuss organizing a group whose aim is to address the problem of youth violence in Suffolk.

Less than two weeks after the Nansemond-Suffolk NAACP and its Youth Council led a meeting of about 200 of the city’s teens and adults, who gathered in response to a rash of violent youth-involved crime, community leaders will see if they can move the process forward tonight during a 7 p.m. meeting in Conference Room A of the Suffolk Health and Human Services Building.

Suffolk Tomorrow and the NAACP will be joined by the city’s Office on Youth in presenting a forum for participants to build a community action coalition, which Bob Stephens of Suffolk Tomorrow believes is an important step to providing real solutions.

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Stephens was one of the community leaders who attended the NAACP meeting at St. Timothy Baptist Church on Aug. 17. He pressed at the time for citizens to come together through their community organizations to form a coalition that would help promote access to programs designed to counter the corruption of Suffolk’s youth.

“We have a significant opportunity for Suffolk to provide access to all families and have them join in the City’s prosperity and ongoing transition,” he said in an email to those who signed a register of participants during that meeting. “A Community Action Coalition can help to bring out many voices to add collective power and strength to the issue of youth violence.”

The issue came to a head following the Aug. 1 murder of TyQuan Lewis, an 18-year-old Lakeland High School student who was shot following a fight at a party. Lewis’ was the second murder of the year in Suffolk, and came just weeks after 25-year-old Alissa Johnson was shot and killed in July. In addition, another Lakeland student, Michael Lee, was shot and killed in Norfolk in January.

“There have been too many deaths along the streets of Suffolk,” NAACP President Charles Gates told those attending the Aug. 17 meeting. “Not just within the past eight months, but within the past few years.”

Gates and NAACP Youth Council President Tyron Riddick will both be at the meeting tonight to make opening statements and participate in a planning decision, along with Suffolk Youth Coordinator Jennifer Branham.

The city’s administration became involved in the process after receiving a letter from Stephens in which he addressed his concerns about youth violence and asked for the city’s help in coming up with a solution.

“Even with the challenging economic climate, our commitment to our youth has remained strong and those programs remain intact in an effort to prevent youth violence in our community,” City Manager Selena Cuffee-Glenn responded, noting that Suffolk’s police and parks and recreation departments both have worked to develop programs that deter youth from crime.

“However, a programmatic response by local government is not enough,” Glenn continued in her letter. “It requires stakeholders such as non-profits, civic and faith-based partners who share in your passion for the youth of our community to truly impact this issue. In addition, a certain level of parental and personal responsibility and accountability is essential to ensure the safety of our youth.”