NEW HANOVER COUNTY — New Hanover County has hired a well-known community member to lead its new anti-violence department.
Cedric Harrison steps into the role as Port City United director on Mar. 22, the county announced Thursday. He will earn a $118,000 salary.
Harrison is known for founding Support the Port, a local nonprofit aimed at advancing racial equity. He also recently launched the WilmingtoNColor shuttle tour, which educates riders on African American’s legacy in Wilmington and the 1898 racial coup — the only successful coup in U.S. history. Previously, Harrison helped underrepresented populations of students reach graduation at Cape Fear Community College as an assistant coordinator.
“He has devoted his life to bringing diverse neighbors together, creating opportunities for the Black community to advance and go after their dreams, mentoring youth, and empowering others to resolve conflicts in nonviolent ways,” Tufanna Bradley, New Hanover’s assistant county manager, said in a news release. “He is known by many in our community as a faithful friend, and I am confident that his leadership of Port City United will allow us to begin moving forward, building relationships, and making a difference in the lives of our neighbors.”
Port City United is New Hanover County’s newest division, established in the wake of the New Hanover High shooting (Harrison is also a NHHS alum). Following the incident, during which a 15-year-old allegedly brought a gun to school and shot his classmate, county commissioners met with law enforcement leaders. The officials concluded the incident was a symptom of a rise in violence stemming from the pandemic and Covid-related school closures.
On the spot, county commissioners committed to spending millions (the exact dollar amount was unclear at the time) on a strategy to prevent a similar incident from occurring again. Months later, staff had assembled a nearly $40-million, four-year plan intended to curb community-wide violence. Harrison will oversee the action plan, including a range of initiatives, from expanding pre-K to hiring more school resource officers. The plan also includes building a grocery store in the Northside food desert, a concept Harrison is already familiar with as a founding member of the Northside Food Co-op. Harrison played a part in framing the strategy during the organizing process.
“An extreme lack of resources for those who really need them has been an issue for decades, and up until this point there wasn’t any significant funding for the things our community needed,” Harrison said in a news release. “But this is a turning point. We have an opportunity now to make an impact, more than ever before. I ask our community to be patient and supportive as we get this department up and running and as we begin working inside our neighborhoods and schools for change.”
Port City United will implement the Cure Violence model, in which government-hired “violence interrupters” go into neighborhoods and intervene in conflicts before they escalate to shots fired. Steve Barnett, the communications director at TRU Colors, will supervise the violence interruption and outreach program. The Cure Violence model started originally in Chicago and has been implemented in cities across the nation, including Durham.
The department will house a 24/7 call center, led by Brigade Boys and Girls Club teen center site director Rashad Gattison. It also will deploy community resource coordinators to high-risk schools, where they will connect students and families to a range of needed services. Jarett Gattison, the director at Community Boys and Girls Club, will serve as the Port City United liaison for coordinators.
Sharon Braxton will analyze the data to present what impact Port City United is making. According to her LinkedIn, she has done data analysis at UNCW since May 2017.
The county noted its intent to hire a director and team members who “understand and possibly have direct or indirect experience with violence” within the job descriptions.
Harrison was injured last month in perhaps one of Wilmington’s most violent weekends so far in 2022, during which there were multiple shooting events. On Feb. 6, he went to the hospital after he and three others, including a 6- and 16-year-old, were struck by gunfire. The family and friends had gathered to celebrate the life of Devin Williams, who was shot and killed the month prior at the same location on 31st Street.
“This work isn’t something that will happen overnight,” Harrison said in the release. “Steering young people away from unfavorable scenarios, making sure people have access to the support that they need, and having fellowship with our neighbors to find compromise and more peace is all going to take hard work and time. We will keep pushing and we need everyone’s support to be successful. We plan on having many conversations with our community to understand and identify needs, and we’ll be asking for volunteers and partners to help us along the way so we can get this right and create as many positive role models and connections as possible.”
The county is still hiring for additional positions over the next few weeks. Port City United is expected to start operations by April 2022 at 320 Chestnut St.
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