While advocates welcome the recent attention, 'community violence' has been around in Wilmington for a long time
Although media coverage of the issue has increased over the past year, community violence has been around for much longer. WHQR sat down with LINC Executive Director Frankie Roberts to get his thoughts on where the problem stems from, and what needs to be done to help it.
There’s a phenomenon Frankie Roberts calls “risk-seeking.” He sees this typically with Black males from ages 12 to 30. When they live in an area without economic opportunities, they turn to conflict, he said.
“The risks that we seek are typically risks of conflict in the hood. My white brothers and sisters in that same age range, they are typically going skiing, skydiving and those sorts of things. So the risks [are] different. And the leadership opportunities are different. And so as a result, you find young people in our community, almost wandering aimlessly in the wilderness," he said.
Roberts is the executive director of Leading Into New Communities, or LINC, a non-profit that has, for over 20 years, pursued its mission: to educate and motivate young people to make positive life choices — as well as provide skills necessary to those returning from incarceration to readjust back into society.
Roberts was born and brought up in Wilmington at the corner of 12th and Castle Street. He’s been a member of the community for decades and has lived through the struggle he’s seeing young black and brown kids experience today.
The shooting at New Hanover High was categorized as a “horrific event” by the county, and while he agrees it was a terrible incident, the sudden attention it brought to ‘community violence’ upset Roberts. He said horrific events of violence like this have been pervasive in the community for years — yet until recently no one offered much financial help for his program.
“After the shooting took place. I was obviously offended at the shooting took place, but I've been offended a long time with you violence in my community… When the county commissioners and the city council had a meeting after this horrific event, and after the horrific event, they had a meeting and then during the meeting and talking about it in that in that context of it being a terrible thing. They then activate it $50 million, because we got to do something," he said.
The community violence problem didn’t begin with the shooting at New Hanover High, Roberts said. The problem had been around for much longer in impoverished communities. It only became a big deal once its proximity reached a certain group of people, he said.
“Because white kids [were] in close proximity of that violence, then it became a terrible thing. But I've been we've been complaining about this all the time. And nobody offered at that level. Fit the million dollars to do something because you can do something with it to me, you know, you can make an impact," he said.
Roberts isn't the only one to make that point. In a recent interview, Tru Colors founder George Taylor noted that, "We had an incident in a white middle-class community, upper-middle-class community," referring to the deadly shooting at his son's house, and "we had an incident in New Hanover High School that has a lot of white students. That is the only thing that changed,"
Roberts said the law of familiarity is driving the wedge between community members — meaning if something doesn’t affect you directly, you’re less likely to care or want to get involved. This is where the issue turns into a “you” problem versus a community as a whole problem, Roberts said.
When it comes to the county’s new department, Port City United, Roberts is a fan. He appreciates the fact that there was community input throughout the process. Roberts also praised Assistant County Manager Tufanna Bradley for her previous work in youth violence.
“I know that she can provide the leadership, because I can't use the statement, you can't teach what you don't know. And you can't lead where you don't go. Because she has been, she has been there and done that," he said.
Members of the county and the community both have agreed that children are playing a big role in the community violence problem — and there are currently many initiatives working to keep children out of the justice system and provide them with the skills they need to stay away from violence.
But those programs don’t reach everyone. So what happens to those who have already been through the justice system? It becomes a question of cost, Roberts said.
“You know, they say, it's better to build a boy than to mend a man… How much would it cost? To now support this person in these areas that they can be successful? And sometimes the checkbook is going to require more zeroes in order to do that," he said.
LINC is currently in the process of opening up a boarding school in the fire station donated to them at Princess Place. It’s not a typical boarding school in the sense students will be staying at the school, but they provide the same service, Roberts said, and that’s to raise these students on behalf of parents who may be too busy with work.
“That's what we call it a boarding school for 15-to-18-year-olds, African American males who might have committed low level offenses to provide academic support by way of getting a GED or high school diploma. And also getting a technology or like construction trade, within the 14 month period that we provide that we are going to provide the support for those individuals to do our part related to youth success," he said.