The power of one community

Residents work to keep our neighborhoods safe

After several incidents when minors were caught brandishing guns and taking shots at classmates and/or people who live in different sections of the county, a few months ago I wrote a post praising our police officers and Sheriff’s deputies for a very quick response and for catching those bringing risk to our community.
I also said that we must help law enforcement by investing our personal time and interest to keep our neighborhoods safe, our young people in school and to provide safe places for good kids so they are not led astray.
Last week I saw strong evidence that one neighborhood is taking action and want to share what I saw.
It’s Saturday afternoon, November 5, 2011:
Instead of sitting idly beside the road — potentially getting bullied into making trouble and possibly injuring one another while threatening the safety of our hometown — boys and girls from Beaufort, Burton and St Helena Island were battling each other, not on the streets, but on a downtown basketball court under adult supervision.
The sun shines brightly but the day is cool which means those of us watching from the bleachers felt a chill in the air. However our hearts were warm because we saw what a handful of volunteers are doing to keep our city safer.
There were no uniforms, only homemade arm bands to differentiate one team from the other. (I have offered to get vests or T-shirts for the next tournament making it easier to differentiate one team from the other.)
The court is adjacent to the Charles Lind Brown Center (aka Green Street Gym), the former downtown neighborhood community center  — where the competition would have been more appropriate — which  is now locked down in the evenings and on weekends. But that did not stop neighbors from trying to fill a gap left open by government austerity.
A volunteer was cooking hot dogs, serving beverages and popcorn to the participants. There was a supervised play area for toddlers and there were a few lawn chairs where some sat in the sun and watched from across the street. Finally there was a sign up table for a free week of boxing lessons offered by Mr Singleton, who trained in Joe Frazier’s Gym and now has his own gym for training would-be boxers.
This was not the result of a government program. It is an example of people caring enough to invest their time and money to protect their community.
How did this happen and how can we help it grow and succeed in meeting an urgent need for safe places and activities for good kids who otherwise might go astray?
The principal organizer of the informal, but hard fought competition, is an unnamed young man who himself has had multiple convictions and spent too much of his life in prison. It is supported by yet another young man, now an attorney and pastor, who himself spent a large part of his life behind bars. They realize the bad choices they made and want to help those who are at-risk from making bad choices and avoid going to the same jails and prisons and, more importantly, threatening the safety of others in the community.
The initiative began a few months ago when random shots were fired on young people playing basketball on the outside court.
The next day, Anita Singleton Prather (aka Aunt Perlie Sue), called a meeting in her living room. Fortunately, Anita keeps an eagle’s eye on what is happening on the street outside her home and knows many of the young people who were essentially put out on the street when the gym closed and while the Boys & Girls Club’s Teen Center was closed.
Within weeks, the small group grew into what is now called the Circle of Hope Coalition, which sponsored the basketball event and others for younger people in recent weeks.
During our first and subsequent meetings, we met with some of the young men who were victims of the driveby shooting. (A big pot of spaghetti likely helped Anita with recruiting.) Among the adults were the two men I mentioned earlier, alongside a city police officer, a few members of the clergy, a former police officer and neighbors who are afraid of losing their historically diverse neighborhood.
Rather than asking the young men to tattle tale on the shooters, which could have incited retribution, the focus was on what we can do to avoid these kinds of incidents?
Over and over the young men, about six of them, said: help us “find something to do.” A summer job, knowing they are scarce; a place to play ball; a safe place to hang out and have fun with friends.
The organized basketball event was the first event, but others are planned as The Circle of Hope Coalition is on additional programs including before and after school programs for those whose parents leave for work early and return late. Finally, the group has applied to Beaufort County Department of Parks and Leisure Services to let them use the largely under utilized public space for programs that create a safe place for young people.
This is a beginning but we have a long way to go. I urge you to support this initiative, attend events, provide financial assistance for refreshments and encourage others to help you do so.
Notwithstanding government cutbacks, we must all work to preserve our neighborhoods and ensure the safety of all.
Providing activities and safe places for your people is one way to help them resist the pressure to “be cool” which often leads to getting into trouble and challenging the public safety and the futures for those who are led astray.
Congratulations and thanks to the Circle of Hope Coalition, residents of the Northwest Quadrant and others who supported them for investing in the future of our young people and the safety of our neighborhoods.

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