A "Call to Action" meeting prompted by the shooting death of a Statesboro teenager launched a fundraising drive for $50,000 to back activities for children and teens and requested volunteers for a growing list of existing programs.
Between 90 and 100 people attended the Friday evening gathering, organized by Mayor Jonathan McCollar and the Statesboro Youth Commission, at Agape Worship Center on West Grady Street. It occurred at the same time as visitation at a local funeral home for the family of James "PJ" Mikell Jr., who was found dead of gunshot wounds around 7 a.m. June 22 at Luetta Moore Park.
In opening remarks, McCollar mentioned also the death last summer of Tamashe' Diquan Jones, 19, who was killed in a shooting in the Park Place apartment complex the weekend of June 1, 2018.
"This is the second summer that we've had this issue occur," McCollar said. "Last summer it was Tamashe', this year it's PJ, and it's time out. It's time for us to really do something, I mean really be serious about doing something for our young people within this community."
The community meeting built on ideas from the Youth Commission, which was started by volunteers after McCollar's fall 2017 election as mayor. After adopting the Youth Commission and two other advisory commissions in late 2018, Statesboro City Council last week specifically authorized the Youth Commission to raise funds.
The commission uses the name Statesboro Community Youth Network, or SCYN, for itself and its effort to build connections among existing agencies. People who attended Friday's "Call to Action" received a list of contact info for 21 agencies or programs, ranging alphabetically from ACTS, Audacity Mentor Group and the Boys & Girls Club to the YMCA and the Youth Career Camp.
Volunteers with some other groups identified themselves during the meeting, and SCYN organizers said the list could grow.
"Is there a desire in our community to do more for our young people?" McCollar asked rhetorically. "Yes, it is. We've got people from all walks of life. You can look at this room. This room is colorful, it is beautiful, and we've got people from varying backgrounds united around one cause."
But identified threats, he said, include poverty, youth gangs and lack of transportation.
McCollar called for a community-wide strategic plan for youth and for the creation of "Children's Zones," with drugs kept out and children's activities and mentoring programs provided.
"Last, we've got to invest in some social infrastructure," he said. "Those are parks, recreational facilities."
Both the mayor and another one of the many speakers during the two-hour community meeting said the security lights were not on at Luetta Moore Park the night Mikell was killed.
"Next, we've got to have more lighting in key areas," McCollar said. "The young man who lost his life, one of the first things that our law enforcement team told me was that, 'Mayor, the lights were out.' Why were the lights out? It's a public park. We've got to make sure to maintain our stuff."
He linked this to an argument he had made previously for more county investment in parks within walking distance of Statesboro's core residential areas.
The Statesboro-Bulloch County Parks and Recreation Department, which is funded by the county, operates Luetta Moore Park, and McCollar has also mentioned its parks on Grady Street and Fair Road as examples.
"Lighting is a situation," said Lance Turner, who operates a day care center in town but also coaches an independent, traveling football team, the Statesboro Warriors, based at Luetta Moore Park.
"I take the kids home, and it's not just Luetta Moore," he said. "A lot of the streets, you can go three or four blocks without a light, and kids got to walk through there."
During his comments Friday evening, Turner said that security cameras are needed at the parks, as well as lighting.
Parks Dept. response
In an interview Monday, Parks and Recreation Director Mike Rollins said the department has security lights, maintained by Georgia Power, in the parking area at Luetta Moore Park but that he did not know whether they were on that night.
"I don't know what else we would have done in particular that could have made a difference, outside of if they weren't working," Rollins said. "Actually I've asked Ed Nelson, who is our facilities coordinator, to check the security lights in all of our parks. But the difficulty with even some of those is they may work one night and one night they don't, and you can go down any street in Bulloch County, in Statesboro, and see the same thing."
Other suggestions Friday night concerned having more supervised, low-cost or free youth programs and mentoring, at Luetta Moore Park and elsewhere.
Ameaka Lockhart, who directs Prancing Stallions, a dance team for girls, said she has to charge a fee but knows that many families cannot afford even supposedly low-cost programs.
"Even if I feel like $40 is nothing to me, it costs; somebody might not have it," Lockhart said. "We have to find something free for the kids to do, and transportation."
McCollar asked Pastor Wayne Williams about the cost of the Youth Career Camp, which he has directed each summer for 13 years. The two-week camp costs $90 per child, including meals and transportation and a concluding field trip.
"We've got to have a mechanism so that if we've got kids that cannot afford to go, we're able to chip in and help those children go," McCollar said, referring to YCC and similar programs.
The $50,000 goal represents the estimated cost of what the commission, or SCYN, hopes to accomplish over the next 12 months. The commission intends to establish a nonprofit corporation to receive the funds.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.