Some of the area’s top community leaders and youth advocates gathered Monday in County Hall with one objective in mind: finding new ways to combat the wave of violence claiming too many young lives on the streets of Buffalo.
The 21 member Erie County/Buffalo Safe Neighborhoods Initiative Committee panel held its initial meeting with an aim toward producing recommendations that ranged Monday from expanded hours at community centers to introducing youth to spirituality.
The committee was the result of a Dec. 12 protest rally convened by County Legislature Chairwoman Betty Jean Grant, D-Buffalo.
The idea now is to craft a mission statement and reconvene on a monthly basis until the recommendations can be presented to the Legislature and Common Council. So far, the panel’s founder is encouraged.
“I am very optimistic,” Grant said. “We have a very diverse group here, and we’re going to make sure the level of homicides and violent crime goes down as more education and employment opportunities become available.”
Grant noted that the members all bring their own expertise to the effort, and that together, a comprehensive set of recommendations is expected to result.
“These members all do this as individuals in their own places,” she said. “Now we bring everyone together.”
Jeffrey M. Conrad, director of the Center for Employment Opportunities and a former South Council member, will act as chairman of the new group. He also is looking forward to the final document crafted by a group that is “passionate” about its mission. Fighting violence in the community already is at the top of almost all of their agendas, he said, and their collective expertise could go a long way toward reducing street violence.
Grant announced the formation of the panel at a Dec. 12 rally on Minnesota Avenue where a young couple had been fatally shot while parked in a car. At the time, she said she would convene elected officials from the city and county, law enforcement, block club presidents, pastors and various community organizations, including MAD DADS, FATHERS, Stop the Violence Coalition, Buffalo Peacemakers, Buffalo United Front and Buffalo Promise Neighborhood.
She said the aim was to identify concerns of specific neighborhoods; address crime issues and find solutions; identify resources for youth, including job training; provide counseling and mentoring to youth; and work with the Buffalo Board of Education to provide GED and educational support programs.
All of those goals received backing from around the table of community leaders on Monday. And it appeared as if specific recommendations were already beginning to take shape. Murray Holman of the Stop the Violence Coalition said simple measures like expanding the hours at youth centers would produce far-reaching effects.
“How can we do our work if the youth are on the streets?” he asked. “If we’re going to get them jobs, first we’ve got to get them to a community center.”
Other suggestions included job training for employment opportunities in construction at the expected building boom around the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, increased parental involvement and exposure to spirituality.
“You can have all the programs in the world, but the most important thing is parents,” said Dwayne Ferguson of MAD DADS.
Conrad said he wants to model the group’s work on a similar effort in Louisville that recently resulted in 80 new recommendations. The local panel then agreed with his recommendation to form four subcommittees revolving around youth, employment, education and health care. He said he hopes the committee will approve a mission statement at its March meeting.