Forum focuses on south side issues

Screenshot of the Virtual Community forum, with community comments from Jeremy Cooper. (pictured from left) top: Nicole Everett, Sandy Noel, Doris Dixon Strong bottom: Derrick Standifer, Captain. Kristi J. Cobb, Christic Henry. Photo by Edna Rutland

Christic Henry, a community advocate for Tallahassee’s south side, is clear about how she regards the numerous shootings in that part of the city.

“The conversation on violence is a public health issue, public violence is a public health issue,” Henry said.

On Tuesday evening the fall 2021 Community Organizing Graduate Students [COGS] of FAMU’s Institute of Public Health held a virtual community forum to discuss the increase in youth violence on Tallahassee’s south side as well as other communities across the city. The purpose of the forum was to address specific issues as well as figure out next steps to assemble the community and to find solutions. Community advocates Nicole Everett, host of “Conversations with Nicole,” and Henry, community liaison with FIPH, served as facilitators of the conversation.

“Students can only do so much. We hosted this forum to allow students and the community to shed light on what’s going on the south side, and what we can do,” said graduate student and COGS cohort member Sandy Noel.

The forum opened with Noel as well as Henry and Everett sharing the evening’s goal: community collaboration that leads to  fruitful discussions that produce working solutions that activate community organizers into practice. Essentially, they wanted the students and community to come together to shed light on issues impacting them and figure out proactive ways to find solutions

The conversation featured a panel who held a treasure trove of knowledge. Doris Dixon Strong, who serves as coordinator of Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice in Tallahassee and serves on the boards of a myriad of other organizations, Derrick Standifer, a two-time FAMU graduate, and member of the poetry troupe Black on Black Rhyme, and Captain Kristi J. Cobb of the Midway Police Department served as panelists.

The panel touched on several issues including childhood trauma, substance abuse, idleness, mental health, the lack of positive mentors and the “scarcity mindset.”

They also broke down the factors leading to an  environment that is essentially a pressure cooker causing people, especially young people, to react in violent ways. Panelist Strong said tha she lost her father to violence on the south side and shared how it made her feel. Panelist Cobb also shared her experiences growing up on the south side and its impact on her.

“Just because you grew up on the south side doesn’t mean you have to be a product of the south side. You can come out of [this environment] and still do positive things in life,” Cobb said. “You can go to bed and hear the gunshots but that doesn’t mean you have to get up in the morning and do the gunshots.”

There was also discussion of some positive solutions. Panelist Standifer said his poetry troupe strives to teach kids to develop an outlet and transcribe what they feel and see instead of resorting to violence.

“Young people will move mountains for people they wanna make proud,” Standifer said.

As the forum came to a close, members of the panel, community, as well as the students present, seemed to agree on the following: positive representation is important, there needs to be better relations between the community and police, and there needs to be more focus and more positive engagement for children.

Moving forward, the COGS of FIPH  plan to have follow-up events and urge the community to stay tuned.