National group aims to curb violence on First Coast

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Deadly youth violence is a problem nationwide that has been painfully apparent in Jacksonville over the past few weeks. A national group is in the River City aiming to get to the heart of the problem and help turn things around. Jacksonville is one of 11 cities chosen to take part in what's called the Black Male Achievement Initiative. It's a multi-pronged approach to improving educational attainment, expanding job opportunities and reducing youth violence.

It's become an all too familiar scene in Jacksonville. Crime tape and police cruisers lining city blocks as people embrace each other in tears wondering why.

"This is my home this is my area," said Kevin Payne. "Anything that happens here good or bad I feel."

Born and raised in the Grand Park area, Payne says lately he can't believe his ears and eyes. In his own neighborhood on July 11 a 14-year-old was shot and killed at a community park.

"It's tough because our babies, these kids that we've seen commit these crimes are babies," said Payne. "They should be out playing ball and have activities like that instead of running around with guns."

Payne coaches basketball at Terry Parker High and is helping out for the summer at community parks. He believes in keeping kids physically and mentally occupied.

"It's a serious issue for many cities across the country," said Leon Andrews with the National League of cities. "The NLC is learning about best practices to see what it takes."

Andrews travels around the United States with the NLC aiming to transform communities. Their focus in Jacksonville is improving the lives of disadvantaged african-american young men.

"We know they are disproportionately dying, disproportionately drop-outs, they're disproportionately unemployed," said Andrews.

Jacksonville is among 11 cities including Chicago and Louisville that applied and was chosen for the Black Male Achievement Initiative.

City leaders will learn from others nationwide about best practices to address the challenges faced by young black men and boys. NLC's assistance includes forming community partnerships, authentic engagement of young black men and raising awareness of the issue.

"It's getting worse," said Payne. "But when you finally admit that you can make it better. Every guy, every young man you can pull a kid to the side and give them some positive instruction. And sometime they just want that little attention. Do your part. If everybody does a little bit it helps out a whole lot."

Jacksonville was chosen for this initiative in April of 2013. NLC leaders began visiting different sites that engage young black men in the city Wednesday and they'll wrap things up Friday. Andrews says city leaders, including Mayor Alvin Brown, have made a commitment to prevention, intervention and enforcement. He says the initiative is not an overnight fix but people like Payne are hopeful it can in-deed help to turn things around.


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