WILMINGTON –– After seeing an uptick in youth violence on Wilmington streets over the past year, a local nonprofit is proposing solutions it hopes will set misled teenagers on the right path.
Leading Into New Communities (LINC) recently restated its interest in leasing the vacant fire station at 3933 Princess Place Dr. from the city. For $1 annually, the organization would house a boarding school at the site with cohorts of 10 to 12 young men, between the ages of 16 and 19. Residents would sleep in the fire station at night and work during the day toward obtaining their GED and acquiring vocational and technology skills.
LINC would partner with Cape Fear Community College for the proposed 14-month program.
According to the city, staff is also proposing using the space for affordable housing, a priority of council’s. Council is reviewing and discussing both options at an upcoming meeting.
LINC Executive Director Frankie Roberts believes a boarding school at the location could help reduce Wilmington’s rising violence. He suspects it is a result of teenagers being out of school during the pandemic, “wandering aimlessly in the hood with nothing to do.”
“They say an idle mind is the devil’s workshop,” Roberts said.
Police Chief Donny Williams has too blamed the pandemic for the spikes in crimes. In 2020 the department reported 34 more violent offenses than in 2019 and almost double the number of murders.
Roberts said adolescents tend to seek adrenaline, often attracting low-income teens to an adverse lifestyle. He explained the risk-taking can be turned into positive experiences.
“Like most middle class families can afford to do with their adolescent teenagers,” Roberts said. “They can afford to go hiking and canoeing and skydiving, and [for] most young African American males in the hood – that type of risk that will solve their risk seeking – they can’t afford.”
Roberts said at the boarding school, LINC would take the boys on adventurous activities, like horseback riding, two weekends per month.
The school would be modeled on existing programs, such as the Laurinburg Institute, a historic African American preparatory school in southern North Carolina. It would be an extension of LINC’s culture-specific Initiative to Educate (L.I.T.E) Manhood Program, which provides employment training, academic support and case management services to young Black men with history in the court system.
LINC first made a formal request to lease the station in January 2017. At the time, the city lacked a process for disposing of no-longer-needed facilities. Now, council is expected to make a decision on the use of the property soon.
Roberts said he has sought out other locations, but the layout of the fire station is ideal for the boarding school since it already features dormitories, a dining room and classroom space. Though it will require renovations. The downstairs would house the vocational training. Plus, it is in the community where many of the potential candidates live.
The school would be funded through grants and contracts, similar to how LINC operates its 45-bed residential campus near the airport, which helps people returning from prison transition back into society. That program is about 90% funded through state and local contracts.
LINC has worked with former inmates since 2000 and launched the youth development program in 2007. Recently, Roberts said there has been increasing “street capitalism,” the term he prefers to use over gangs.
Earlier this month, Roberts shared with city council that his 19-year-old grandson, who is not involved in “street capitalism,” was present at the shooting on Kidder Street. Three people died and four others were wounded in the gunfire. (At this time Wilmington police is not releasing specifics on the cause of the shooting and whether gang activity is suspected.)
The deadly event came after two back-to-back incidents where juveniles fired shots in Wilmington, which led the district attorney to hold a press conference in early March denouncing gun violence.
Last week, Roberts requested more than $35,000 in annual funding from city council, some of which would go toward a new late-night program LINC hopes will curb the violence. The program, held during the hours when most shootings occur, would invite men to LINC’s classroom space on Princess Street to play video games and make music in a studio on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.
After about three or four weeks of building rapport, LINC plans to launch professional development classes to guide the men from “street capitalism” to American capitalism.
“Come and sit down; play some games; let’s do a little music; let’s talk a little bit. We’re going to try to influence them to straighten up and fly right,” Roberts said. “Because we got to do something.”
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