Educators, law enforcement professionals, and others who work with youth across Eastern North Carolina gathered in the auditorium of LCC’s Waller Building on Monday for the sixth annual Eastern Carolina Gang Conference.
“If we choose to change the minds of our young people with the resources that we have, they will change their lives and they, in turn, will change the world of Eastern North Carolina,” said the event’s motivational speaker, known as Nubian Scholar of cit2bit (see it to be it), a “hip-hop themed” youth and adult development group in Washington, D.C.
The event was sponsored by Eastpointe Human Services, the N.C. Gang Investigators Association and the Sheriff’s Offices of Duplin, Lenoir, Sampson and Wayne counties. About 350 to 400 people attended Monday’s event.
“The purpose is to alert folks in communities of what the issues are related to gang activity, the impact of gang activity on their communities, and formulating plans and strategies to prevent and intervene where gang activity may be occurring,” said J.W. Simmons of Eastpointe and the NCGIA, who served as the event’s moderator.
In addition to the motivational speech from Nubian Scholar, the gathering featured remarks from Kinston Mayor B.J. Murphy, LCC President Brantley Briley, local District Attorney Branny Vickory and Glenn Perry, special assistant U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of N.C.
Two NCGIA members — Ben Parrish of the Duplin County Sheriff’s Department’s Gang Unit and Greg Steffens of the N.C. Highway Patrol’s Troop B in Fayetteville — gave a presentation on the state of gangs in the region.
There were also sessions on cyber-bullying and the use of social networking sites by gangs.
Simmons said gangs are becoming more popular among youths, the result of drug activity and bullying — some gangs are even kidnapping people and holding them as captives.
“The worrisome part for gang investigators is, they see trends in which a lot of younger children are getting involved in gang activity … they have a very strong allegiance to gangs, even stronger than family ties,” he said.
While hip hop and gangster rap music are often blamed for glorifying the gang lifestyle and having a negative influence on youths, Scholar said the music — which has become embedded in all levels of American culture — can have a positive role in turning young people away from the gang life.
“While we’re sitting in this auditorium, millions of young people, millions of young people, are looking at hip hop as a viable career option,” he said.
Scholar spoke at length about how many gang members come from impoverished homes where no father is present.
He went out of his way to praise mothers, but stressed, “no matter how well-intentioned, how well-meaning a woman is, she can never teach a boy to be a man.”
Simmons said the conference created “quite a good dialogue and feedback” among attendees.
Wanda Bryant, 21st century program director for the Wayne County 4-H, said the information presented “helps us better prepare ourselves” to identify youths who might be involved with gangs.
James Thomas, evening director for James Sprunt Community College in Duplin County, said he is responsible for all activities and operations on campus after the school’s president leaves at 5 p.m., also said the information would help him spot potential gang activity.
“I really think that anyone who is responsible for students, public safety, they should be here,” he said of the conference.
He is also a member of the U.S. Air Force Reserve, and said gangs look to recruit members of the military.
“They’re already disciplined,” Thomas said. “They already know what to do with guns and weapons.”
David Anderson can be reached at 252-559-1077 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at DavidFreePress.
For more information on the N.C. Gang Investigators Association, visit ncgangcops.org.