Friday, July 1, 2016

‘Pool-ing’ resources to deter youth crime

Youth of varying ages frolicked in and around the pool at Ed Rice Community
Center to cool off. (Photos by Wiley Henry)
     The heat wave has been rather irksome since the onset of summer. But the stifling temperatures didn’t stop hordes of youth from finding their way to the nearest pool to cool off – literally – while school is out for the summer.  
Youth of all ages waded, splashed and frolicked in and around the pool at Ed Rice Community Center in the Frayser community on Friday (June 24) evening to expend energy and less time fighting the ho-hum of summer.
That same day, just as many youth splashed around in the pool at the Hickory Hill Community Center, another site where excited youth found relief from the sizzling heat. At both community centers, the youth cooled off, ate pizza, played games, watched movies, and were thoroughly entertained.
Youth crimes generally spike during the summer months, which is why the City of Memphis launched Summer Night Lights, a Memphis Gun Down Safe Summer initiative that provides youth with recreational activities.
Bishop Mays, director of Memphis Gun Down, is intent
on steering youth away from crime.
Summer Night Lights is a two-day, six weeks event: Pool on Fridays and twilight basketball on Saturdays from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. for young adults 24 and under.
Former mayor A C Wharton Jr.’s Innovation Team (now known as Innovate Memphis) established Memphis Gun Down in 2012 after receiving a $5 million, three-year grant in 2011 from Bloomberg Philanthropies to revitalize neighborhoods and reduce gun violence.
Although Memphis Gun Down no longer receives funding from Bloomberg Philanthropies, intervention strategies are still being implemented under the Strickland administration. The program now depends on funding from the city and private donors.
Memphis Gun Down partners with the Memphis Police Department (MPD) and the city’s Division of Parks and Neighborhood to intervene in the lives of youth before they commit violent crimes. The program operates in Frayser, South Memphis, Orange Mound, and Mt. Moriah/Hickory Hill.
“The purpose of Memphis Gun Down is to make sure our young people have a safe place to be in high crime neighborhoods,” said Bishop Mays, director of Memphis Gun Down, a five-prong strategy to combat youth crimes such as homicides, aggravated assault, and robbery of individuals and businesses.
The five-prong strategy: 1) Suppression: laser focus on the small percentage of young men committing gun violence; 2) Community Mobilization: mobilizing stakeholders in the community to shift the focus from acceptance to rejecting gun violence; 3) Youth Opportunities: promoting jobs and opportunities for youth; 4) Intervention: a coordinated approach to intervening at the first sign of potential violence in the streets, schools, and hospitals; and 5) Organizational Change and Development: transforming policies, practices and systems in the city to reduce youth violence.
Mays spent three decades with the MPD and retired in 2012 with the rank of colonel. His last assignment, he said, was dealing with youth violence and trying to stop crime before it happened. He has an affinity for his current job.
 “Our intent is to continue the event,” said Mays, noting that Memphis Gun Down is not a new crime-fighting concept. “The innovation team adopted it from a model in Los Angeles. They researched the concept and thought they could bring it to Memphis.”
Memphis Gun Down, however, differs from the Los Angeles model. It’s a collaborative approach that includes other initiatives and programs, said Mays, such as the 901 Bloc Squad, a street intervention program; the GRASSY (Gang Reduction Assistance for Saving Society's Youth) project, a mentoring program focused on reducing truancy in schools; and Regional One Medical Center, a hospital-based violence intervention program.
“We want to grow to impact more people throughout the City of Memphis,” said Mays, noting that youth crime was reduced in Frayser by 20 percent and in South Memphis by 55 percent between 2012 and 2014.

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