Community leaders said during a radio forum Friday that restoring Lexington youth programs hit by recent budget cuts could help stem the recent rise of teen violence in Lexington.
P.G. Peeples, president and chief executive officer of the Urban League, cited the closure of the Mayor's Training Center as an example of the cutbacks, asserting that "we lost a pipeline to the street when that was closed." The training center helped Lexington residents qualify for and find jobs. When it was cut from the city budget in 2007, former Mayor Jim Newberry said the center duplicated other existing programs.
"I know that the African-American community trusted and believed in the Mayor's Training Center," Peeples said Friday. "I dare say that maybe some of the things we're seeing today we wouldn't be seeing if that entity was intact."
The comment came during a 90-minute forum on teen violence in Lexington that disc jockey Jay Alexander held on his show on WBTF-107.9 FM. Alexander said he organized the discussion in response to the shooting death of Chaz Black, 16, in Lexington on Sunday and other recent incidents.
While the forum produced no firm game plan for reducing youth violence, several speakers said that restoring youth programs could be a start. No specific funding sources were suggested.
"The Charles Young Center, Micro City Government, the Mayor's Training Center ... all these things closed down right before we probably had the greatest economic recession since the Great Depression," Urban County Councilman Chris Ford said. "The timing could not have been worse."
Such programs, Ford and other forum participants said Friday, helped form relationships between young people and the community, relationships that now may be fraying.
"I think we lost one of the major agencies that provided those kinds of relationships when we closed the training center," Peeples said. "Kids would come there; young adults would come there; if someone had a successful experience they shared that with others. We got a chance to know some kids."
The Urban County Council voted unanimously in December to reopen the Charles Young Community Center on East Third Street, which had been closed since 2008. Ford said that could be a "template" for a community effort to restore other programs that reach out to young people.
"I've heard that we need Micro City Government back; we need something like the Mayor's Training Center back; we need jobs," Ford said. "More cops on the street is not going to solve this problem ... if we don't make adjustments in our kids' education, if we don't create job opportunities for our youth."
The Rev. C.B. Akins said community members need to make their wishes known.
"I want to see parents stand up," he said. "I don't want my child to be the next child that's killed; I don't want your child to be the next child that's killed either. We have to speak up for all our children."