Blue Ribbon Commission invites you to delve into the early intervention of gang violence over breakfast

"Especially in the current climate, everyone’s feeling helpless, everyone’s thinking ‘what can I do?’"

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Jana Jones Halls, speaking at a BRC event held at the Brooklyn Arts Center in November, 2016. (Photo by Benjamin Schachtman)

WILMINGTON – The Blue Ribbon Commission on the Prevention of Youth Violence will hold its annual “Breakfast of Champions” fundraiser next week. It is an opportunity for Wilmington area residents to learn about the issues affecting the downtown area and how to contribute to addressing them, according to Executive Director Jana Jones Halls.

The Blue Ribbon Commission (BRC), a non-profit group, addresses problems affecting downtown youth. These are complicated, multifaceted problems without a single easy fix. This makes the work done by the Blue Ribbon Commission difficult – it also makes it hard to encapsulate.

“People always ask me for an elevator pitch,” said Jones Halls. “It’s hard to do. It’s more like a long subway ride conversation.”

The BRC is not a single intervention, Jones Halls explained, but a series of small course corrections that help young men and women overcome the obstacles set in their way. From simple distractions to serious dangers, the BRC tries to put in place “wrap around support” for students, starting with educating parents and students about their own socio-economic situation.

“A big part of what we do is education,” Jones Halls said. “There are a lot of issues, and we try to help people understand that through the public health lens. We don’t want them just looking at the situation as, ‘oh, those kids are joining gangs.’ We’re trying to educate them. We want them to ask, and then understand, why it’s happening.”

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Jones Halls at an event last year. (Courtesy BRC)

Jones Halls added, “that means everything from economics – job opportunities and exposure to careers they might not even know exist – to health issues, like the fact that there isn’t a place in walking distance to get fresh fruit and vegetables. That also means disparities in public schools, the schools our students go to versus those that are maybe 15 minutes away.”

The “Breakfast of Champions” will review the past year, and paint a picture of how the BRC’s various programs work together. Two speakers will highlight the BRC’s summer employment program and the also the group’s collaboration with the D.C. Virgo school.

“At the breakfast one our speakers is a student who worked at the city manager’s office as part our program, another is a mother of a student at D.C. Virgo,” Jones Halls said. “So, you’ll be able to hear about what we do from different perspectives.

Also speaking at the event will be Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo and New Hanover County Commissioners Jonathan Barfield, who both serve on the BRC board.

Jones Halls herself will speak about the future of BRC.

“This coming year, our real focus is community. Especially in the current climate, everyone’s feeling helpless, everyone’s thinking ‘what can I do?’” Jones Halls said. “Well, you can do something, and it starts with community. That’s where you can get inspired, that’s where you can feel like you’re making a difference.”

Tickets to the breakfast, held next Wednesday, Feb. 8, at Coastline Convention Center are available at the BRC website and cost $45.

Jones Halls said the cost of the tickets represents “an investment in the most under-served youth in the area.” She also said that she understands there is sometime concern or uncertainty about where donations go. To that end, Jones Halls provided some examples of what donations actually translate into: $100 provides two weeks of afterschool snacks for 20 students; $200 funds leadership and team-building training for 15 students; $1000 will send 20 students on five different field trips for a variety of educational and career-exposure opportunities (other examples of are available at the BRC website).