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'We Need More People To Care': Community Members Discuss Local Gun Violence

Jennie McKeon

Just hours after Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan gave a news conference on an active-shooter incident at a local grocery store, a group of concerned citizens met inside the Pensacola Library Thursday evening to talk about gun violence.

The meeting was set up by Marcella Powell of Motivate the Youth Inc. in an effort to identify problems and solutions when it comes to gun violence in the Pensacola area.

As local government looks to federal assistance and organizations like Pensacola Dream Defenders scrutinize police policies, Powell said she wants to see people step up.

“We’re not here to raise awareness because we already know it’s out there,” Powell said. “We are the community. We can help change this.”

About a half dozen people came to the meeting — most of them from local nonprofits. Most everyone agreed that a solution starts by reaching someone at a young age and at home.

“We need a movement, not a moment,” said Candace Muhammad. “There’s no unity among elders. We’re disunited and so is our youth. We have to look at things through a different lens and not use the same old tools the same old way.”

Shaun Hartsfield, president of H.Y.P.E. (Helping Youth in Pensacola Endure), works with kids through his mentoring program.  He believes the problem begins with “jobs and money.” Lack of access to good jobs leads more young people down the path of bad decisions, he said. 

Credit Jennie McKeon / WUWF
Shaun Hartsfield, founder of Helping Youth in Pensacola Endure (H.Y.P.E.) says he believes youth make bad decisions when they lack access to good jobs and opportunities.

“I know a lot of kids are left running around unattended,” he said. “Parents work so much they have to leave kids at home alone.”

Hartsfield worries that some teens have already lost their way. “How do you get a 15-to-18-year-old to know their self-worth?” he asked.

“You build a bond,” Muhammad said. “Don’t go in with preachiness. Teach them. Be consistent.

Mattie Broxson, a social worker at the Salvation Army, said the organization’s Pathway of Hope program works to help families climb out of poverty. She pointed out that help is out there, but not everyone knows it.

“Refer them to me,” she said.

“They say it takes a village to raise a child, but we have to restore the village,” she added. “It doesn’t take a dime for people to just come together.”

Lisa Wiggins is the director of P.A.I.N. (Parents Against Injustice & Negligence), which provides group therapy and victim advocacy services to families.

Most of the families she works with have been affected by gun violence — and sometimes that includes the family of a shooter.  As cities across the country grapple with bridging the gap between black communities and law enforcement, Wiggins said she believes Pensacola does not have a police problem.

“Most of our killings are black-on-black crime and domestic violence,” she said.

By the end of the two hours, the group made plans to meet with local government and police officials to share their grassroots mission. They also plan to host a gathering at the Fricker Community Center on North F Street — “that’s where we need to be,” Hartsfield said — to connect families in need with resources. 

Even though there were plenty of ideas flowing, Sean Hartsfield said it will take more than a room of six people to really make change happen. Hartsfield is president of H.Y.P.E. (Helping Youth in Pensacola Endure).

“The number-one problem is that the community isn’t out here practicing what they preach,” Hartsfield said. “We can’t do this alone. We need more people to care.”

Jennie joined WUWF in 2018 as digital content producer and reporter.