Booker T. Washington community leaders held a meeting Saturday afternoon at Sandy Grove Baptist Church to assess their resources and lay out a comprehensive plan to curb area violence in the wake of recent shootings.
“Sometimes it takes bad situations to bring us together,” City Councilman Michael Chestnut said as he briefly welcomed a group of about 70 people at the church on Carver Street. “Until we get together, it’s going to be hard to solve these problems and tackle them, and it’s going to take all of us working together.”
The Booker T. Washington neighborhood, nestled west of Oak Street, in the shadow of the Myrtle Beach Police Station, between 21st Avenue North and Mr. Joe White Avenue, has experienced recent spasms of violence that include five teens arrested after shooting at another teenager on Jan. 21 on Washington Street and another recent drive-by that happened while children were outside playing.
No one was injured in these shootings, but community members worry someone could be hurt or killed in another incident and action must be taken to prevent that from happening – action that requires the community pooling resources and working together to reach out to at-risk youth, as well as their families, to keep them away from drugs and violence.
Unless we come together we’re going to continue to witness and see gun shooting going on in our neighborhood, said
community activist and event organizer Bennie Swans
“Unless we come together we’re going to continue to witness and see gun shooting going on in our neighborhood,” said community activist and event organizer Bennie Swans.
“In unity there’s strength,” said Rev. Tim McCray, director of the Joshua Academy and associate minister at Sandy Grove Baptist, who spoke at the meeting about his experience in working with at-risk youth.
McCray and Swans each noted that they’ve seen the city put changes in place to deal with Memorial Day Bikefest violence and help area homeless with programs like New Directions after concerned community members brought issues forward, so they say they’re striving to do the same.
Swans and McCray called for attendees to forge ahead together as they lay out a comprehensive plan and asked the community to attend upcoming city and county council and school board meetings to gain support and funding to implement programs that will help area youth stay out of trouble and get jobs.
Swans presented what he called a tried and true national model for helping at-risk youth called “Reaching through the Cracks,” which lays out ways to keep young people from falling into a life of crime.
Part of the plan involves putting people in touch with the right resources to help them get jobs even if they already have a criminal background. It also involves school officials working with at-risk kids and not allowing them to fall through the cracks.
The meeting was opened for attendees to voice concerns and opinions about the issue at hand, and some who spoke said they felt that parents should be supported because giving children attention, support, and teaching them respect at home was key to combating violence issues.
The importance of positive community programs was stressed, and some stood up and revealed there are a number of these programs out there already, but the group needed to pool these programs and their resources at this assessment meeting to create a firm foundation to continue to build on.
Our primary message here today is that we’ve got to work together collectively, work with government, social services, and schools to make a difference in approaching our young people,
Bennie Swans, community activist and event organizer said
Myrtle Beach High School Principal John Washburn attended the event as a concerned citizen and educator, and expressed his desire to listen and learn about what can be done to help at-risk youth.
“I want to be able to make sure I can provide students with the tools and resources they need to be successful, and I want the community to know that I need their help in making that happen,” Washburn said.
Washburn said the next steps were defining exactly what’s needed so helpers can go into the community armed with the right resources. He also said he would love to grow support and involvement with school officials and parents.
Tanisha Bellamy, prevention educator with the Rape Crisis Center and lead youth counselor at the Boys and Girls Club, also spoke at the meeting and brought awareness to an after-school program at the Boys and Girls Club and a youth violence prevention program at the Rape Crisis Center.
Booker T. Washington community member and meeting attendee, Gail Dennison, said she was there because she has children and grandchildren in the community and wants to see the violence stop.
“I see violence happen and I want to help the young children to be successful and make the community safer,” she said.
She plans to continue to attend meetings and encourage her neighbors to do the same to help make a difference.
The next steps include going to a city council meeting on Feb. 9 to collectively ask city leaders for help in reaching into their community.
“Our primary message here today is that we’ve got to work together collectively, work with government, social services, and schools to make a difference in approaching our young people,” Swans said. “We’re calling on city government and county government to work hand-in-hand with us as be break the cycle of violence.”