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"We can't do it alone": Port City United to lean on non-profit community to address community violence

New Hanover County

New Hanover County now has the ball rolling when it comes to its anti-community violence initiative, Port City United. But it’s going to take a lot of hands to keep the ball rolling.

Tufanna Bradley is the assistant county manager, the new Port City United initiative falls under her management. While the county is still in the beginning stages of getting everything figured out, there’s a big component people have neglected to bring to the community violence conversation until now: the business sector.

“I actually have been trying to lay the groundwork for the department, especially for the director. I've reached out to the business community, because they're going to be a vital component of this, because the lack of opportunity when it comes to employment in our area is very huge — especially employment at livable wages. And so it's going to be important that we include them in some of the discussions that we've had, we haven't really involved the business community that much," Bradley said.

Community violence stems from a multitude of factors – like food and housing insecurity, behavioral issues, and lack of overall mobility. Including the business community in this conversation is half of the battle, Bradley says.

In addition to talking to potential employers, Port City United is also focused on potential employees. The program aims to help pay for education costs in fiscal year 22-23 to help at-risk people get certifications, or an associate or bachelor's degree so they can apply for jobs.

Port City United is based on a model being used up in Durham, Bull City United. It’s unlike anything the county has ever done before, Bradley says. The county, in previous years, had not been as involved, much less started an entire department to combat the issue. In the past, the county simply posted a job and advertised it, but that’s not entirely the case this time, and who they’re looking to hire has changed.

“Many of the staff that we’ll be hiring will be those individuals, those individuals in the community, some of the positions, we're not even requiring a bachelor's degree. … The focus is actually looking at how Cure Violence in their model operates. And they they actually employ people from the community. So people who have lived the experience, they have been on either side or both sides of violence, so they could have been a perpetrator or victim," Bradley said.

Employing people directly from the community creates trust in the program, meaning people will be more willing to accept its help, Bradley said. Having come from “the bottom of Wilmington” herself, Bradley said, it's important to reach back and help out the community.

Bradley says that the interim will be the challenge. While the program gets itself on its feet, there’s still issues in the community — and that makes it easy for residents to feel like they’re being fed false promises, she said.

“But they'll have to see it to believe it. And I completely understand," she said.

The problem of community violence is not just focused within a few blocks radius, Bradley said. It’s called “community” violence for a reason. But despite increased media coverage over the last year, some residents may not feel like they’re affected, and thus turn a blind eye to the issue.

“Well, sometimes, when it's not in our bubble, we don't see it or understand it. And I think some people need to come out of their bubble, because eventually, it'll impact you, for example, New Hanover, the shooting at New Hanover ended up impacting people that probably never expected," Bradley said.

Bradley acknowledged it’s going to take a lot of communication and education on the county’s part to help the community stay informed, and aware of what’s happening.

Community input is needed, though, Bradley said. People who are dealing with violence themselves are the only ones who know what resources they need, and Bradley doesn’t want them to be silent. If there’s one thing she wants community members to hear directly from the county, is that they’re committed.

“And we have to have that compassion, and empathy. And that's what I will share with them. And that the county really does care. And we care so much," she said.

So much that they’re putting out $39 million over the next five years.