Starting in March, a group of residents fed up with the violence in Fort Wayne started working on a plan to combat it.
After months of meetings, their efforts were made public Thursday night at the Fort Wayne Urban League. Jonathan Ray, the league’s president and CEO, spent time Friday talking with The Journal Gazette about the plan, which received input from hundreds of people. To read the plan, click here.
Q. This is a big, multifaceted problem. How did you all tackle it?
A. The thing that we thought was necessary in this plan of action was to kind of lay it out in terms of, “Hey, here are some of the facts about our community and that community is part of Fort Wayne.” And with that, we know that if we’re going to do anything, we’re going to have to strategically work with others once we have a plan. The other thing that came out of it was that instead of one group sitting in a silo and saying, “Well, this is what I do,” what we’re trying to do is say, “Hey, we’re all in it together,” which is different than what has happened in the past.
Q. What does the plan suggest to reduce violence?
A. One of the first things we want is to focus in on our young people, the kids before they reach school, just making sure that they’re ready to learn and making sure that parents understand that whole dichotomy of preparing their children for school and eventually for the world.
Employment – very high on the list. Sometimes you can’t control opportunities for employment, but when you look at the unemployment rate for minorities, it certainly is significantly different than the majority. We felt like putting that out there so people could see it would help people understand versus just assume that, “Hey, we’re all dealing with the same set of circumstances.”
The other thing, in terms of violence, is we want good police protection. I mean, the one thing that was emphasized over and over is the respect for the police force, even when there was frustration, because people understand, I mean, that’s a tough job.
But at the same time, the other thing that was pushed was the need for the police force to understand and value our community and understand our culture and not treat everybody the same. …
We believe in gun control. I mean, we think that everybody should have a right to be a hunter, you know, or even have a personal firearm for protection. We’re really concerned about the weapons that are almost like machine guns and how easy it is for people to buy guns at gun shows.
Q. What were some of the specific ideas to help young people?
A. What people kept saying is that they felt like young people in our community weren’t ready to make the transition to adulthood. They didn’t have the tools in some cases, didn’t have the maturity and needed additional support.
Another thing that came up was a 13th grade to support young people who graduate from high school, but they’re not really ready for college. The 13th grade was mentioned as maybe a vehicle for kids that really were interested, not a forced thing, but kids that wanted to become confident in their studies.
Q. What does the plan recommend for neighborhoods afflicted by violence?
A. If you don’t have things that make a neighborhood a neighborhood, you know, places to shop, places to be entertained, employment opportunities, guess what? It becomes a temporary place, and things that you are using or renting on a temporary basis, you don’t manage them or care about them in the same way.
And so, we would like our community to be a destination versus somewhere you’re just here for a little while. I mean, some of the things that we think need to happen in terms of economic development, we know that the very grass roots can’t do it by ourselves. That’s why we wanted to put this plan out for people to see and read and then engage those we can in this process of changing the community.