by Jordan Green

Black men in Winston-Salem resolve to take responsibility as mentors and fathers to stem the tide of violence plaguing young, black men.

The marchers — mostly men, including fathers and sons, coaches, artists, community organizers, fraternity brothers and clergy, along with a smattering of women, Muslim and Christian — voiced one message.

It’s time to stop the violence plaguing young, black men.

The march began promptly at 10 a.m. About 35 people assembled in a parking lot at the intersection of New Walkertown Road and Carver School Road.

Three men at the head of the march carried a banner reading, “Inspire Young Black Fathers and Sons Unity March” during the event, which took place on June 7.

Felecia Piggott-Long, a teacher at Carver High School, carried an oversized red flower and led the marchers in a familiar civil-rights anthem: “I woke up this morning with my mind stayed on freedom…. I woke up this morning with my mind stayed on unity.”

The marchers took over a lane of traffic as they undertook the 0.7-mile trek to Carl Russell Recreation Center. A marshal from the Nation of Islam directed traffic. Passing cars honked and neighbors waved from their yards.

The marchers filed into the auditorium at the recreation center and took seats in the bleachers. A group of men on the speaker’s program sat in a line of metal folding chairs facing the audience.

Speaking over the rumble of a large floor fan, Reginald McNeil talked about worrying about the safety of his two teenaged children, who attend Paisley Magnet School. He recalled his wife asking him if he had said goodbye to the children one morning when he was hurrying to get ready for an early-morning appointment in Greensboro. What she said froze him in his tracks.

“You don’t know what may happen today,” McNeil’s wife said.

McNeil told the audience at Carl Russell Recreation Center: “We’ve got to stand up like we are today. We’ve got to talk to these brothers. We’ve got to talk to the politicians, to the police officers about how important it is to take care of these young people, so we can prepare them for businesses, and so we can keep them alive!”

Nationally, homicide continues to exact an inordinate toll on young, black men. Across all racial groups, homicide rates were highest among those aged 15-34 years and males are about four times more likely to become victims of homicide than females, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Studies by the federal agency have consistently found black males to have the highest rate of homicides among males of all racial groups.

But consistent with other groups, the homicide rate among black males ages 15-29 has decreased dramatically since 1993 — from 158 to 75 per 100,000, according to the CDC.

“Possible explanations for this decreasing homicide rate among young males are reductions in drug trade and sales, increases in police response to youths who carry firearms and increases in incarceration,” a November 2013 CDC newsletter reported.

Winston-Salem has experienced seven homicides since the beginning of the year, compared to one during the same time period in 2013.

“Unfortunately, we’re way up,” police Lt. Steven Tollie said.

All the victims have been black males ranging in age from 22 to 39, mostly clustered at the younger end of the spectrum. Only three of the homicides have been cleared with arrests. The most recent victim, Montez Dewayne Hambric, was killed by a Winston-Salem police officer, which the department classifies as “homicide by law enforcement.” Hambric, a resident of Durham, fled from a car accident involving a stolen vehicle on May 25, according to police. The police said Cpl. DW Walsh fired a single round from his service weapon at Hambric after the man physically assaulted the officer during an attempt to take him into custody.

While Winston-Salem experienced only one homicide in the first six month of 2013, by the end of the year the count had risen to 15. The previous year saw eight homicides, the lowest number on record in decades.

Effranguam Muhammad, a representative of Louis Farrakhan, told the group that the black community is “faced with extinction.”

“What was pharaoh’s conspiracy?” he asked. “To destroy all the male babies. Pharaoh is bringing the drugs into the black community. Pharaoh is bringing guns into the community.”

Overcome by emotion as he reflected on a recent homicide in Winston-Salem, Fleming El-Amin became choked up and had to pause for several seconds while he collected himself.

“What drives our self-hate for each other?” he asked.

He concluded by quoting Martin Luther King Jr.: “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be.”

Artemus Peterson, one of several volunteers with an organization called BAM, or Becoming A Man, spoke about his experience mentoring young people in the Cleveland Avenue Homes public-housing community and at Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation Center in Winston-Salem. He said he has been in prison and gotten shot multiple times.

“How many of you know a national war is going on in Winston-Salem?” he asked.

Forsyth County Commissioner Everette Witherspoon, who once worked as a community organizer in an anti-violence campaign in Detroit, urged the young men in the audience to speak up when they witness a crime being committed.

“Young men, you’re not a snitch when you tell the police what’s going on,” Witherspoon said. “You’re only a snitch when you’re involved in a crime and you tell the police so you can get a lower sentence. We need to start speaking out to save our young, black men.”

[pullquote]’Young men, you’re not a snitch when you tell the police what’s going on. You’re only a snitch when you’re involved in a crime and you tell the police so you can get a lower sentence.'[/pullquote]Underscoring the cause of saving young, black men, Piggott-Long demonstrated how she raps to her high-school students to convey important messages. Stopping the violence is more than a matter of social responsibility for her. Piggott-Long and Ben Piggott lost their brother to homicide in 1990. Piggott is the supervisor at Carl Russell Recreation Center.

“I want young, black men to know they are not alone in the universe,” Piggott-Long said. “They were brought here for a purpose. It was not an accident. They have a role in the universe. They carry their family line. It’s a terrible thing to lose your life, to be made prostrate. It’s so important to save your family line. You have to guard your life. We need more strong black families. That’s going to require sons, brothers, fathers, grandfathers and uncles. We need to be able to build new generations.”

At the conclusion of the program, led by Muhammad and Peterson, the men resolved to take time every Saturday to do the quiet work of mentoring young people away from news cameras, to make a difference person to person.

Piggott emphasized a message of unity.

“Anybody getting killed — black, white, Chinese — that’s a concern to us,” he said. “If one of your loved ones has been murdered you have our sympathy. It’s because of the large number of young black men that are being killed that we are especially concerned.”

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