Durham activists prepare to open youth community center near downtown, hope it’ll curb gun violence

Durham County News

DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – On Friday, Durham community activist Sheryl Smith showed off boxes full of donations she plans to give to a new community center that she and other local activists are working to open near East Main Street and Angier Avenue next month.

“I have boxes full of games, school supplies, things for the kids,” Smith said, as she showed the boxes of donations. “The goal is to get our community center open to create a safe haven for the kids.”

Smith lives just a few blocks away in Franklin Village where she said she had been asking city council members to help bring a community center to the area for a decade now. She said shootings have continued to be a problem in the neighborhood.

“No one did a thing,” Smith said. “They just sat back and allowed it to happen.”

According to the City of Durham’s crime map, there have been 221 aggravated assaults thus far in 2021 within 1 mile of where the community center will be located.

“I don’t have time to wait, because every second that we waste, a child could become a victim of gun violence,” Smith said.

Smith has worked to prevent gun violence in Durham since she lost her 18-year-old, Todd, in 2005.

She said that she and other community members found out that space was available at the Calvert Place Apartments at East Main Street and Angier Avenue. They talked to the property owner, which is The Community Builders, and she said they are going to allow them to use the space for free.

However, Smith said they are still in need of tables, chairs, computers, and for people to volunteer their time at the center.

Smith said they hope to provide programs that include a Black history class and after-school tutoring. They’re looking for volunteers willing to help tutor some of these children.

The center will be open to youth who live at Calvert Place Apartments, Franklin Village, and Main Street Townhomes.

“Right now, our kids really don’t have anything to do but walk around our community and stand on the corner. When they get bored, that’s when they want to start committing a crime or start hanging around the wrong crowd,” Smith said. “I pray that when our elected officials see this they will come to the table and help. We’re in the midst of downtown Durham, wouldn’t you want this safe?”

CBS 17 reached out to Durham City Councilman Mark-Anthony Middleton to see if he would support or work toward bringing community centers like it to other areas where there have been a lot of shootings.

“One of the things that I’ve been looking at is revisiting the status of our parks and recreation centers around the city,” Middleton said. “I’ll look at what we can do to increase the city’s footprint in already existing real estate that we own.”

Durham City Council member Javiera Caballero told CBS 17 that many community groups have submitted proposals to the city regarding their American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding, but she said the council has not seen those proposals yet.

As for Smith, she said the plan is to open the community center by Nov. 5, and she is hoping for city leaders and the community to jump in to help.

“They used to tell us, ‘it didn’t happen overnight, we won’t be able to fix it overnight,’ but if we really wanted to, we could fix this overnight,” Smith said. “It’s almost like to save our young Black youth, it’s a fight that never ends. Hopefully, we can come together and put a change to this because this has been going on too long.”

So far this year, there have been 644 shooting incidents and 223 people have been shot in Durham. Thirty-four of those who have been shot have died, which is a 30 percent increase from the 24 people who died this time last year, according to Durham police data.

Smith said they will be working on Saturday at 9 a.m. to get the community center ready to open. They’ll also be working on the landscaping around the center. Everyone is invited to come out and help.

For more information on how to donate or volunteer at the center, you can call Sheryl Smith at 919-937-0368 or Cory Rawlinson with the Community Builders at 919-475-9655.

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