City Council Public Safety Committee Chair Anthony Byrd led a community meeting about how to reduce violence after one piece of a possible solution flopped last month.
Byrd, who represents District 8, called the meeting to clear up confusion over the reason the resolution failed, he said.
The resolution would have allowed the Chattanooga Police Department to enter into a contract with Father to the Fatherless for case management services for kids at risk of not transitioning to adulthood successfully.
These services are intended to provide a stable mentor to kids who need someone to help guide them through adolescence in order to reduce the percentage of kids who join gangs or become violent in adulthood.
“A lot of misconceptions were put out, and I got a lot of flak when I heard the information that was put out on social media of why the violence reduction [resolution] didn’t go forward,” Byrd said.
Some people thought the council didn’t want to give money to the urban community or that the council thought $600,000 was too much money for the program, he said.
But Byrd said he didn’t have enough information on the program’s results.
“When I read a lot of the paperwork and saw all of the outcomes and what the program was doing when it came to the Father to the Fatherless, I just didn’t get enough information to spend your money in that light,” Byrd said.
The community meeting
About 50 people came to Byrd’s meeting, where Chattanooga public safety coordinator Troy Rogers, who initially pitched the idea to bring in Father to the Fatherless idea, spoke.
Rogers talked briefly about what he sees as problems in the communities before defending Father to the Fatherless’ work.
After the Father to the Fatherless resolution failed, it removed the opportunity for the nonprofit to receive funding for the counseling services they are providing in schools. Father to the Fatherless is continuing to work in the schools using private funding instead of city money.
The city is also separately looking at how to effectively spend the money set aside for this part of the violence reduction initiative because it is still allocated in the budget.
“If you have a problem with the VRI, you blame me,” Rogers said. “Stop bad-mouthing an organization who is still today working with no pay, because they have got to have funding from other people.”
Byrd pivoted the conversation from the failed resolution to potential ways for the community to move forward. He invited other members of the community to come forward and speak about their own work with at-risk youth.
The speakers included teachers at local schools, those who have started sports clubs for kids and youth counselors.
After these community members came up to speak, Byrd outlined his plan to help with violence reduction.
He wants to support smaller efforts by creating a foundation that would receive money from the city or county. The money would go to a foundation committee whose members would divide funds between people and organizations helping youth.
The next step will be to take the information from the meeting, work to get other City Council members on board and bring it to the mayor, Byrd said.
District 9 Councilwoman Demetrus Coonrod, District 3 Councilman Ken Smith, District 4 Councilman Darrin Ledford and District 7 Councilman Erskine Oglesby attended the meeting.
Reaction to the meeting
Byrd said he feels optimistic about the event, but other community members said more could have been done to help plan for the future.
After the meeting, community member Brandon Woodruff, who said he managed to “beat the status quo,” also said he wanted a better plan than was discussed:
I think it’s a great start, and I think it’s a great showing of how the community cares about the issues and how we can actually come together and actually discuss something in a diplomatic manner. I would have liked to have created more of an agenda as far as what are we going to do. I think a lot of people are still leaving here kind of wondering what VRI really is … I’m looking forward to having more of these so we can actually get to the solution.
Clayton Mason, who was with Woodruff, said the real problem wasn’t touched on.
“The big question is really ‘What is the problem?’ but until you really tap into those underlying issues that enable those problems, you can’t really create a plan to solve it,” Mason said.
Alina Hunter-Grah is a contributing writer. She currently attends UTC, where she was previously the news editor of the student newspaper, The University Echo. Alina also worked at CNN during the summer of 2017 and is the former Chattanooga correspondent for 2nd & Church, a literary magazine based out of Nashville. You can reach Alina at [email protected] or on Twitter @alinahuntergrah.
Updated @ 8:34 a.m. on 2/12/18.