By Ariel Worthy
The Birmingham Times
More than 200 Birmingham residents got a chance this week to ask city, state, county and community leaders about issues from drugs to violence that plague some of their neighborhoods.
The YMCA on Red Lane Road in Roebuck held a District 1 Economics and Crime Town Hall meeting, where Birmingham City Councilor Lashunda Scales served as moderator.
Reducing violence requires relationship-building, said some on the panel.
“Drug dealers and gang bangers are putting money in these kids’ pockets,” said Kerri Pruitt, executive director of the Dannon Project. “The drug dealers build relationships, I don’t see a relationship stronger than the ones these guys build.”
The Dannon Project provides reentry and supportive services to people who have been incarcerated and come home. Services include case management, medical services, behavioral health services, job readiness and educational services.
LP, a community speaker, and music artist, agreed that relationships are important.
“We see those young guys that stand outside the store, and we immediately think they’re drug dealers and thugs. That might be the case, but we have the ability to build relationships with these young men,” he said. “Go stand out there with them and talk with them. You will learn a lot about those young men and impart wisdom, advice, and after they see how much you care, they would be more willing to listen. Unfortunately, not a lot of men spend a lot of time with these young men out here … We have to build that bridge and encourage them to make the right decisions.”
Pruitt also called for more training.
“We need money to build entrepreneurial training so [the kids] can go back and build businesses in their communities,” she said. “How do you change the community? You don’t send people away, you let them rebuild their communities. The same hands that tore that community down need to be trained how to build that community back up.”
All people should be treated with respect, regardless of their past, Pruitt said.
“When they walk through our doors we treat them with dignity and respect because it doesn’t matter what happened, what journey led them to us, everybody deserves a second chance,” Pruitt said. “…we have a plethora of services, but sometimes people need you to just listen to them, hear what they have to say.”
Panelists included Birmingham Police Chief A.C. Roper; Bishop Jim Lowe, senior pastor at Guiding Light Church; District Attorney Danny Carr; State Rep. Allen Treadaway (R-AL); Clarence Muhammad, of the Nation of Islam; David Fleming, executive director of REV Birmingham and former Birmingham police chief Annetta Nunn, who is now with the YWCA.
The role of the family was also discussed.
“Some of those who have been to prison, if you trace it back to their childhood, you will see that they came from abusive homes,” Nunn said. “Studies have shown that those who grow up in abusive households, particularly boys, will grow up to be batterers themselves. It also says that girls who grow up in abusive households will be more at risk of being sexually assaulted … and a lot of other problems.”
Roper said he has seen an increase in family-related violence, and it has driven a lot of homicides last year.
“The police department is not going to be in the house,” he said. “We’ve got to build up families because successful families make successful neighborhoods. Young men join street gangs because they give them what families don’t. Street gangs give them identity and families should do that; they give them purpose, family should do that; street gangs will have dinner together. They’re doing things that the family should be doing.”
Muhammad said the community has to take responsibility.
“We cannot put the responsibility fully on the elected officials because it’s on us, starting with the men in the community,” he said.
Scales said the meeting was a success because we heard “from individuals in not only law enforcement but social service agencies – the YWCA and Dannon Project – that can address community problems with a more understanding approach.”