By Leonard E. Colvin
New Journal and Guide
Local and state NAACP leaders are seeking to encourage cities in Hampton Roads to use federal “American Rescue Plan” money to fund grassroots groups to help combat gun violence.
This plan was one of several recommendations developed during a meeting on August 12 on gun violence between NAACP leaders of Region 1 and area city managers, and police chiefs.
According to Gaylene Kanoyton, the President of the Hampton NAACP and Vice-Chair of organization’s Area 2, the virtual, solutions-based meeting “fostered frank dialogue between local government officials and local NAACP branches to develop a regional approach to address the issue.”
During the summer of 2021, the region’s cities have confronted a rash of gun violence, which has claimed the lives of or injured at least 20 youth, all occurrences taking place post Memorial Day weekend.
Many of the victims involved are African American, ranging from toddlers to teens and adults.
“Many of these cases of violence are occurring unfortunately in the Black community” said Kanoyton. “So, we must address this issue head-on, using the grassroots groups who are working on the ground each day to stop it.”
According to Kanoyton, race is one critical factor and another is “the infiltration of guns in our community.”
She said that she applauded the Norfolk Police Department for tracking guns used in violent shootings in the city. Tracking weapons allows for authorities to determine their origin.
“If these community and neighborhood grassroots organizations receive funds which can help them with their work,” she said, “there must be resources to help them sustain their efforts so they won’t get burned out or discouraged.”
She said that if grassroots organizations receive grant funds and they use the resources effectively, then they should be allowed to become non-profit agencies.
She said they should receive training in accounting and application of the funds, in hopes to build sponsorships. The idea is to leverage public funds with other sources to sustain the organization for extended periods.
“When tragedy happens, groups have marched; they may have a forum and bring media attention,” she said. “But we must do more than just wait for the next tragedy. The community groups are doing the day-to-day work in the neighborhoods every day after the marches and speeches and tears are forgotten. Why not give them resources to be proactive rather than react?”
Kanoyton said the COVID pandemic has been attributed to domestic tensions which play a factor in violence outside the homes. This could be addressed with mental health treatment and counseling. Localities should allocate funding for mental health community-based supports with credible messengers and outreach workers.
She said that in addition to the help of grassroots organizations with public funds, local social services agencies should take a page from the childbirth profession.
“We need something akin to a program that gives support and guidance to women to help them through pregnancy,” she said. “Our children need mentors to help them navigate life to avoid being victims to crime.”
During the meeting, NAACP branch presidents brainstormed new implementations, including using American Rescue Plan dollars on gun violence reduction initiatives.
Municipal grants should be offered for grassroots, neighborhood-based organizations that are doing gun violence prevention and reduction work in communities.
Also, localities should remove institutional barriers or secure fiscal sponsorships to ensure that administrative red tape does not prevent grassroots groups from accessing these resources to continue their work.
Another solution would include expanding efforts to recruit and train Black people and other minority groups to become law enforcement officers in their respective communities.
Many urban communities with large Black and other minority populations such as Norfolk, which is a minority-majority populated city, is working to address gun-related violence.
But, despite efforts by officials to recruit and hire more minority officers, the number of Black officers is less than a quarter of the city’s population.
Also, emphasis should be placed on community-based cultural sensitivity training for local law enforcement officers.
Kanoyton told the GUIDE that the meeting with city leaders and police was one of several held recently to address the issue of gun violence.
She said that police and political officials were “taking notes of the ideas and sharing them during the meeting.”
For the past four years Roderick Bonds, a former educator in the Newport News and Norfolk Schools divisions has organized the yearly event Hampton Roads Peninsula Youth Leadership Conference.
This event was inspired by the Norfolk community activist Abdul Aswad, who has held similar events in Norfolk where a coalition of groups come together at a gathering organized by the youth to tout efforts to provide services and guidance to them.
Bonds said that if he was allocated funding, as opposed to the annual gathering, which he has held for the past four years, then it could be a year-round effort.
“The yearly event and the year-long effort would be designed to give leadership input and opportunities to our youth,” said Bonds. “The youth would come up with plans for the programs and the adults would advise them.”
His programs, as with Aswad’s, would be a composed of groups tasked with providing mentoring and counseling services to youth to prevent gang recruitment and social isolation.
Kanoyton shed light on several programs and organizations with similar missions, including Bonds’ programs, as well as the Stop the Violence initiative led by Balil Muhammad in Norfolk and Teens with a Purpose, the youth-driven arts program in the St. Paul’s section of Norfolk. Several other programs and organizations are also in operation in the Peninsula area.
“Unity means more,” said Bonds. “We could collaborate with other groups to use our resources. The bottom line is getting our youth involved. Idle hands are the devil’s workshop. And we want to keep their hands busy…out of trouble and contributing to their community.”