Campaigners in Durham prepare to open community youth center near city center, hope this will reduce gun violence

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DURHAM, NC (WNCN) – On Friday, Durham community activist Sheryl Smith was shown boxes full of donations she plans to give to a new community center that she and other local activists are working towards to open near East Main Street and Angier Avenue next month.

“I have boxes full of games, school supplies, things for the kids,” Smith said, pointing to the donation boxes. “The goal is to open our community center to create a haven of peace for children. “

Smith has lived a few blocks from Franklin Village, where she said she has been asking city council members to help establish a community center in the area for a decade now. She said shootings continued to be a problem in the neighborhood.

“Nobody did anything,” Smith said. “They just sat down and allowed it to happen.”

According to the City of Durham Crime Map, there have so far been 221 aggravated assaults in 2021 within one mile of the community center location.

“I don’t have time to wait because every second we waste a child could become a victim of gun violence,” Smith said.

Smith has worked to prevent gun violence in Durham since she lost her 18-year-old Todd in 2005.

She said she and other members of the community discovered that a space was available at the Calvert Place apartments at East Main Street and Angier Avenue. They spoke to the owner, who is The Community Builders, and she said they were going to allow them to use the space for free.

However, Smith said they still needed tables, chairs, computers and people to volunteer their time at the center.

Smith said they hope to offer programs that include a black history class and after-school tutoring. They are looking for volunteers willing to help some of these children.

The center will be open to youth who live in Calvert Place, Franklin Village and Main Street Townhomes apartments.

“Right now our kids really have nothing to do but walk around our community and stand around the corner. When they’re bored, that’s when they want to start committing a crime or hanging out with the wrong crowd, ”Smith said. “I pray that when our elected officials see this, they will come to the table and help. We are in the middle of downtown Durham, wouldn’t you want this safe? “

CBS 17 reached out to Durham City Councilor Mark-Anthony Middleton to see if he would support or work to bring community centers like this to other areas where there has been a lot of shootings.

“One of the things that I’ve looked at is reviewing the status of our parks and recreation centers in the city,” Middleton said. “I will see what we can do to increase the city’s footprint in the already existing real estate we own. “

Durham City Council member Javiera Caballero told CBS 17 that many community groups have submitted proposals to the city regarding their funding through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), but she said the council did had not yet seen these proposals.

As for Smith, she said the plan is to open the community center by November 5, and she hopes city and community leaders will step in to help.

“They were telling us, ‘it didn’t happen overnight, we won’t be able to fix it overnight,’ but if we really wanted to, we could fix this problem overnight,” said Smith. “It’s almost like saving our young black youth, it’s a fight that never ends. Hopefully we can come together and make a change to that because it’s been going on for too long. “

So far this year there have been 644 shootings and 223 people have been shot dead in Durham. Thirty-four of those who were shot have died, a 30% increase from the 24 people who died around the same time last year, according to Durham Police data.

Smith said they would be working at 9 a.m. on Saturday to prepare for the community center to open. They will also work on the landscaping around the center. Everyone is welcome to come and help.

For more information on how to donate or volunteer at the center, you can call Sheryl Smith at 919-937-0368 or Cory Rawlinson with the Community Builders at 919-475-9655.

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