A panel of four community members spoke Wednesday night about ways to prevent community-wide violence in the Akron area.
The sparse crowd — fewer than 50 — in the auditorium of the main branch of the Akron-Summit County Public Library reflected part of the problem, a member of the audience said.
Fred Slack, 57, of Akron complained about the low attendance, saying people just don’t care like they used to, adding that the culture of neighborhoods has changed.
“As parents, everything starts with us, and we have to be effective to make a difference,” he said. “This room should be packed. Violence is a symbol of an unhealthy community.”
Akron City Councilman Russel Neal Jr., D-4, sponsored the violence prevention event. He said the community is a neighborhood, and that it takes a village to change its culture.
He said a community is a reflection of people’s collective thoughts, and people have to condemn wrong or it will destroy lives. He cited several quotes by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., including: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent,” and, “In the end it is not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
The moderator, Darrita Davis, president of the organization Stop the Violence Akron Movement, said people need to say something.
“We need people to stand up and fight and quit being scared,” she said.
One of the panelists, John Hafford II, said “changing the way we relate to one another is the key, changing what is acceptable so it is not the norm.”
“The way the rules are now, people can do whatever they want, and if you say something, you are in the wrong and are retaliated [against by] your peer group,” said Hafford, program manager for Fame Fathers, a fatherhood initiative. “We have to get away from, ‘You got Person A in trouble’ to ‘No, they got themselves in trouble and you need to tell someone about it.’ We as a community must condemn [bad behavior] and support right behavior.”
There were 25 homicide victims in Akron last year, and 16 of the 25 were black males. There were 11 unsolved cases, and nine involved black men.
“We have a serious problem with the ‘no-snitch’ mentality in the black community,” said Cynthia Ivery of Akron, whose son, Henry O. Ivery III, was gunned down Dec. 11, 2011.
Ivery was a 25-year-old student attending Vatterott College, a trades school in Broadview Heights, at the time of his death. His mother said it took nearly a year to raise enough reward money just to get a little information, and the case is still not solved.
“Anytime you can live with yourself knowing the killer or knowing something about a killing, it’s just not right. Nobody sticks together any more,” she said. “This city does nothing, and the community does nothing to help stop black-on-black crimes. I am a living witness to that.”
Another panelist, Santura Pegram, a former Akronite, said people who leave Akron return for only two things: a class reunion or a funeral. He returned to Akron for his son’s funeral.
Santino Boddie was 25 and a University of Akron student when he was gunned down.
“As a parent who lost a child, I understand your pain,” Pegram told the audience. “When I lost my grandmother, on a scale of 1 to 10, it was a 10. I was in pain, but losing a child, the scale is 50, somewhere off the charts. I was a former boxer and have never been knocked down or knocked out, but losing a son brought me to my knees.”
Pegram talked about economic development initiatives, saying violence usually results from a lack of income, lack of opportunities, gang activity, boredom and helplessness. He said, “We can preach education, but not everyone is fit for school.”
He said he used to sell dope but now sells hope.
“We have to work with youth to raise their level of consciousness to earn a decent living. They want to be self-sufficient and respected and need meaningful paying jobs,” Pegram said. “Those things have to be put in place to resolve the problem.”
Tamela Lee, a member of the Summit County Council, said it took several decades for “our community to get in this shape.”
She blames the disappearance of strong families and said every generation has been diluted — “babies raising babies, and when you look back there is no one to teach the next generation because they are less equipped with knowledge.”
Marilyn Miller can be reached at 330-996-3098 or email@example.com.