By Leonard E. Colvin
New Journal and Guide
Thirty years ago, Deidre Love recognized that the youth living in the St. Paul’s Quadrant in downtown Norfolk needed cultural and social outlets.
St. Paul’s Quadrant has three of the city’s largest public housing communities, along with historic neighborhoods such Huntersville, where Black Norfolk residents have lived for decades.
Educational, economic, and social disparities are abundant, and families run the gamut from some of the city’s poorest to working-class to middle income.
Love envisioned and has built with varying sources of support a successful group she named Teens With a Purpose (TWP). It is an organization that provides educational and cultural outlets she believed would help the St. Paul’s community’s youth develop and shy away from violence and other destructive paths.
But Love, like most other activists and residents who work in the Norfolk community, have come to realize that regardless of the positive cultural and educational resources provided for the area’s youth, gun violence poses a threat that can destroy their lives in a moment.
The TWP headquarters on East Olney Road sits at ground zero for deadly and constant acts of gun violence in that part of downtown Norfolk.
Gun violence has spiked over the last two years, not only in the urban corridors like Norfolk or Virginia Beach but in the seven major cities of the region.
Norfolk alone has recorded daily shootings since the beginning of the year. Many of them within a stone’s throw of the TWP’s nest of operation.
It is has gotten so threatening that TWP offers escorts and van rides for the youth participating in TWP programs after school, although, they live a block from the organization’s front door.
Love’s concerns personally are not generated by what she reads, hears, and sees from local media reports.
She said she recently registered several acts of gun violence in one week directly and indirectly.
The most threatening took place when she and her son were helping the driver unload supplies for the TWP gardening project.
As the work got underway, suddenly they heard gunfire. Several people were shooting at each other at a short distance from where they were working
St. Paul’s is not the only downtown area plagued by gun violence.
Over a month ago, five people were shot and two people were killed outside a busy Granby Street restaurant at 2 a.m.
That spat of violence highlighted the issue of gun violence and set off alarms from city officials and the political elite, fearing patrons would abandon one of the city’s main entertainment districts.
City leaders and advocates have held high-profile meetings and forums, seeking public input into how gun violence can be ended.
All of the region’s mayors have met to define ways to end the violence.
Love is a member of the Norfolk Mayor Dr. Kenneth Alexander’s Committee to Redevelop St. Paul’s Quadrant. The panel is a mix of stakeholders in the community tasked with coordinating and assisting the exodus of the families from the area to prepare for its revitalization. And to lend a voice as to how it will be transformed.
Chaired by Norfolk Councilwoman Danica Royster (Ward 7), the panel consists of representatives from churches, businesses and other entities operating in the St. Paul’s Quadrant.
Faced with the challenge of gun violence, in February of 2021, Love and other leaders in the community requested, and the main panel created a Working Group on Public Safety and Youth.
Love said that the recent rash of shootings caused the city to provide resources for the group’s efforts.
One of the assets engaged was the Newark Community Street Team (NCST).
According to Love, the city issued an RFP (Request for Proposal) to solicit organizations such as the NCST to become a consulting agency to aid the city in devising policies and practices to address the issue.
NCST, according to its website, was founded in 2014 by Newark Mayor Ras J. Baraka as Newark’s community-based violence reduction strategy, and looked to address a high homicide rate in Newark, N.J. The strategy was to focus on training and employing non-traditional community leaders to reach youth and young adults who are at-risk.
Now it has gone nationwide and has a role in Norfolk.
NCST won the bid and coincidentally, a study team was in town at the same time of the tragic shooting incident at Granby Street, and several other incidents, according to Love.
Love said the city was looking for a national or local group that worked with the public and had a proven track record.
On March 29, members of NCST held their first meeting with council members to discuss how they plan to help address the city’s growing violence problem. According to Love, the organization will send specialists to train the people already working and living in Norfolk to develop strategies to deter gun violence, intervention for mental health, and other issues which may trigger it.
Love said many of the specialists working with NCST have directly committed acts of violence which landed them in the criminal justice pipeline and jail.
Because of those experiences, they are called “Viable Messengers” who will help NCST train local residents to become guiding figures and voices of change in Norfolk.
“Public safety has traditionally been considered the domain of law enforcement,” said Aqeela Sherrills, the NCST Board Chair. “But we’ve now come to understand you can’t have ‘public safety without the public.”
NCST will train local people to coordinate their efforts with city law enforcement, social service, healthcare, education, and other public, private and nonprofit agencies.
NCST LOGO Photo: Courtesy
PIC: Deidre Love