The deaths of two teenage boys on the southeast side of Fort Wayne has shaken a community that not only wants answers but also wants to take action to stop the gun violence.
Sunday, at the Wings of Deliverance Church on Fairfield Avenue, Sheila Anderson led a youth rally for the church’s young people who knew Nicholas Scroggins, 14, who was shot dead on Tuesday. Anderson said Scroggins had attended Blackhawk Middle School before becoming a student at Bishop Luers High School.
The group’s young people also knew John Bennett Jr., 15, killed in an alley in mid-June. He was a basketball player at South Side High School, according to information Anderson gleaned from her youth group.
The family of Alonna Allison, a 17-year-old Concordia Lutheran High School student shot and killed at a bonfire party on Schaper Drive in late August, also attends the church, Anderson said.
"We decided enough is enough. That’s why we decided to take action," Anderson said. "We’re coming up with a strategic plan where the church is actually going to reach out to the community. Over 15 pastors in Fort Wayne have committed to supporting Chief Hamilton in the cause of preventing teen violence." Fort Wayne Police Chief Garry Hamilton and Joe Jordan, CEO of the Boys & Girls Club, spoke at the rally.
Not far away, at the New Beginnings Church on Lafayette Street, there was a call to action meeting, held in the sanctuary. About 50 people came to give their opinion as well as interact with a panel of five community leaders and the church pastor, the Rev. Carlton Lynch. The other panelists were Roderick Parker, senior advocate counselor for the Urban League’s Urban Youth Empowerment Program; Malik Williams, local college student; Darnell Hicks, community representative; Kevin Mohammed, Nation of Islam; and Larry Gist, president of the Fort Wayne chapter of the NAACP.
"Fort Wayne is out of control," Lynch said, opening up the meeting. He will propose a 10 p.m. curfew for young people and starting today seek out partners to fund jobs in local businesses. Some businesses on the southeast side of town cannot afford to take on extra help, but with financial aid from some local organizations, they could, Lynch said.
Lynch’s strategy is to provide hope through employment. What the community is up against is a different generation, some of whom are under the influence of dangerous drugs and able to easily buy guns and ammunition.
Guns and ammunition are available on the internet and at stores like Wal-Mart, Gist said.
In the past, people in a neighborhood watched out for each others children. Now, not so much, the panelists said. The Neighborhood Watch that may have been established years ago has fallen by the wayside, or may be composed of people from the older generation who are now frightened to walk the streets at night.
Palermo Galindo, Hispanic and immigrant liaison for the city of Fort Wayne who was not on the panel, stood up to suggest an Adopt a Block program as neighbors did close to Gaywood Street where a spate of shootings took place a couple of years ago.
What became apparent through many of the comments was that neighbors need to interact more often, and community leaders, older men in the community, could start befriending young people who could use role models outside the family.
"We are our community," said Mohammed, pleading with the listeners.