Two local ministers and three city officials confirmed last week that a recent “town hall” meeting, of which the general public and local media were not informed, was a well-attended session intended to serve as the springboard for a concentrated effort to better the lives – and the futures – of the community’s children and youth.
About 65 people, including the city’s mayor and four of five city council members, attended the meeting, which was held at Atmore City Hall, Wednesday, May 3.
At least 11 ministers were there, too, as were three school principals, at least one teacher, a member of the Escambia County Board of Education, two school system administrators and a city hall employee. There were white-collar professionals; there were men and women who wore the uniforms of the blue-collar worker.
Escambia County Children’s Policy Council Director Karean Reynolds, local minister Michael Wilson Jr. and “several other community members” actually came up with the idea of the meeting as a means of bringing together a number of individuals and groups who share concerns about the children of the community.
“This meeting was called to bring the community together to brainstorm on ways to address some of the issues affecting the young people in our community,” Reynolds said. “The primary purpose of this meeting was to bring all the stakeholders together in a central location and involve members of the community and work through these issues in a professional setting. In my opinion the meeting was a success because we were able to bring key stakeholders to the table to engage in conversation on key strategies to address some of the concerns.”
A sampling of those who were part of it indicates that it broke new ground in community relations while also breaking some of the ice that exists between different factions of the community.
“The meeting was awesome,” said Bishop Bernard Bishop, pastor of Destiny Worship Center. “It was a strategy meeting for developing a plan of action. We’ll get feedback, then we’ll turn that feedback into an action plan. It was really great because so many facets of the community were there, from educators to pastors to just concerned people who gave input. Now, we need to devise a plan of action behind those suggestions and comments.”
District 5 City Councilman Chris Harrison said his hope that the meeting would be meaningful was bolstered by the magnitude and makeup of the crowd.
“I think it was a very positive meeting that addressed some of the concerns in the community,” Harrison said. “With the turnout we had, I think there are a lot of people who care about our community. A lot of it was to provide information for parents, especially single parents, on how to help them help their children, to drive the children in the right direction.”
Reynolds was also pleasantly surprised at the number of people who attended the meeting.
“I was surprised to see the number of educators, ministers, politicians, non-profit organizations, young adults and citizens who attended in this event and helped make it a success by expressing things from their point of view,” he said.
District 4 Councilwoman Susan Smith said the meeting might have served as a turning point in the effort to erase the line that separates members of the community’s different racial groups.
“I think (the black community) is starting to see that there is a need for us all to work together,” said Smith. “I think they see that it’s going to take a community, all of us working together, before we can get things done.”
The Rev. Harold Askew, who ministers to the flock at New Pleasant Hill Missionary Baptist Church, agreed that there was a dividing line in the community. But, he said, the local divide is not just racial, that division and dissension also run rampant within members of each race.
“I’m hoping that our community will come together and get more organized when it comes to having things set up for our young people,” the preacher said. “We have so many things going on, but in all different directions. We have a lot of people, from both races, that, if they are not in charge, they don’t want to participate. I believe that if we come together and pool our resources, we will be ready to do something for these young people.”
Reynolds agreed that a lack of communication between adults is one of the most obvious problems facing local children. He added that future meetings would focus on removing that obstacle.
“From this event we learned that a key problem in the community is communication,” he said. “There are so many organizations and entities providing resources and addressing issues but they are not communicated to the people who would benefit the most. Our primary focus going forward is to develop a strategy that would promote all of the positive things that are being conducted throughout the community and develop a central location where individuals and organizations can provide information.”