Leaders for the Chattanooga gang task force accepted a $5,000 donation from Miller & Martin PLLC, the city's largest and oldest law firm, on Wednesday.
Along with representatives from Miller & Martin, task force leaders held a brief press conference to comment on the donation, which will be put toward a new literacy program for the East Chattanooga Rec Center. A version of the software is already being used at the Bethlehem Center in Alton Park.
In brief remarks, Miller & Martin Chairman Jim Haley said the firm viewed their contribution as a "long-term investment" and hoped that other members of the Chattanooga business community would also offer their time and resources.
"We believe the Chattanooga gang task force is doing critical work that will have a tremendous return on investment in the coming years," Haley said. "With the research they've done and a firm strategic decision in place, we know these funds will assist them with the work ahead; however, we also know that they need much more support."
Boyd Patterson, coordinator for the task force, said committing the funds to literacy programs would he useful in helping the group achieve its long-term goals for reducing gang crime.
"Third-grade reading levels are where kids stop learning to read and start reading to learn," Patterson said. "This will help the kids in the community get the step-up."
Patterson repeatedly noted that he hoped other businesses in the city would follow the firm's lead in supporting the city's year-old initiative. His sentiments were echoed by Chattanooga City Council Chair Pam Ladd, who said the donation from Miller & Martin had brought "validation" that investments from businesses in the program were viable.
"It's a good program; it was a great decision to budget and spend this money," Ladd said. "And the public is beginning to see that. So those that were critics of votes that we took can now say that this program's working, people are investing in it, and we're going to turn this around for Chattanooga. It's going to be the model for the nation, I'm convinced."
When asked to name any specific, positive results that had been seen by the task force since beginning its campaign, Patterson said the donation from Miller & Martin was significant in that it fit in with a component of the comprehensive gang model being adhered to by the group.
"What we have right now, if you follow the comprehensive gang model, are five strategies," he said. "And one of those is community mobilization. That is when the agencies and the individuals in a community realize that it's everybody's problem. Obviously, today is just the latest example of someone from the business community, one of the most-established, if not the most-established, law firm in the Southeast recognizing that."
Patterson also said that despite the majority of gang-related violence being gang-on-gang, community and business members who were concerned about Chattanooga's reputation as a city ought to be concerned about the issue.
"The truth is that gang violence is primarily gang-on-gang, that Chattanooga has an extremely low rate of random violence, meaning that when it comes to gang violence, unless you're a gang member or dealing drugs with a gang member, you're relatively safe here," he said. "But again, that doesn't mean it's not your problem. Those things that are going on in the affected areas do affect every single businessperson in town who cares about the image of Chattanooga, whether people want to come downtown to enjoy the wonderful things that have happened on the Riverfront and other areas. Whether you have a financial interest, a family interest or a personal interest, this is your problem."
Community and business members wishing to make a contribution to the gang task force may do so through the Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga.