GULFPORT, Miss. (WLOX) - Concern is climbing in Gulfport as the after effects of violent crime and gunshots ripple through the community. City leaders and concerned citizens have been putting their heads together to do everything they can think of to stop the violence.
Following this week’s Stop the Violence Summit, steps are being taken to help the community heal and, hopefully, help prevent more violent acts from occurring.
The Morningstar Missionary Baptist Church has started a neighborhood watch in the Soria City neighborhood, which has been the scene of multiple drive-by shootings over the last several years.
Other outlets for youth are being looked at more closely, as well. Mayor Billy Hewes pledged at Tuesday’s meeting to donate $1,000 out of his own pocket to help fund the local Boys and Girls Club. He is also encouraging other businesses to help by doing the same.
These actions come after a string of shootings over the last week in the area, all involving teens. Two young men only 18 and 19 years old were killed last week. A few days later, a drive-by shooting left two young men and a minor injured. Police are still looking for 16-year-old Jermaine Mayers, who authorities say was suspect who pulled the trigger. Three days after that, another drive-by shooting left a home and a vehicle bullet-ridden.
Antonio Knox is the director of the Forest Heights Boys and Girls. He was also at Tuesday’s summit and had the chance to talk with the youth who attended to see how they feel about the recent rash of violent crime.
”They’re looking for something that might be positive, a safe environment for them to go to,” Knox said. “Right now, they don’t feel safe.”
The Boys and Girls Club gives children and teens a safe space to learn and grow. Morgan Bogolin has worked with the Forest Heights club for years and believes the club helps children deal with the chaos of the outside world.
”Here at the club, we have a whole child model. We want to make sure (they are cared for) physically, mentally and emotionally,” explained Bogolin. “We have awesome programs that really carry kids all the way - from six years old to high school - about decision making. We pair them with mentors, females for the girls and males for the men that they can look up to as they participate in their learning process.”
Other outlets in the community, like the Combat Academy School of Martial Arts, are also available to serve as an outlet for kids. The martial arts school operates out of the Good Deeds Community Center and is set to return to class for the first time since the arrival of COVID-19.
Minister Rick Barber coaches the martial arts program and takes great pride in instilling values and discipline into children. Yet, he stresses for the community to see a difference, parents must become more involved.
”There is no other way to put it. It’s parenting. Parents need to be more involved. They need to check the cell phones. They need to go in the rooms and see what is in the rooms. Parents need to start being parents again,” said Barber.