• Social and Criminal Justice Day

    In February, the Leadership Wilmington cohort participated in a program of contrasts, layered with insights on the community’s dedicated support of our vulnerable populations and navigating the criminal process from both a victim and offender perspective, hosted at the Wilmington Police Headquarters. The impact of this session was significant, as we learned the multipronged approach to identifying and preventing crime in the community by concentrating efforts on the youngest citizens.

    Our day began with a briefing on the UNCW Restorative Justice Collaborative, lead by Dr. Kimberly Cook, Professor of Sociology, who identifies as a survivor of domestic violence. Her work is focused on positive change through repair and healing resulting from crime and other traumas, including racial injustices.  Her presentation wove the story of her own healing with the studies and experiences gathered from indigenous cultures across the globe on the power of reconciliation in building resiliency for individuals and communities. IT was a positive and forward focused way to begin the day.

    Next, CEO of the YWCA of the Lower Cape Fear, Velva Jenkins, continued with a review of the mission and work of the YWCA as the oldest and largest women’s movement in the country. The vision of  peace, justice, freedom, and dignity for all people since 1914 extends to their work to champion racial justice. YWCA initiatives include economic advancement for women, spotlighting the violence against indigenous women, anti-bullying education in schools and family support for grandparents caring full-time for their grandchildren and early parent’s program in the region.

    We were thrilled to have Wilmington Chief of Police Donny Williams share his perspective as a lifelong Wilmingtonian  on the initiatives underway in the department. A 2019 incident highlighting racial bias among some police officers lead to Chief Williams’ success in recruiting a leading expert to train the entire department on fair and impartial policing. The initiative has had significant benefit to equip officers with practiced tactics in de-escalation and slowing down high stakes situations. The approach is paying results and is part of the Chief’s commitment to reinforce positive training and culture among officers. While homicides are trending down, fatal crashes and general crime are on the rise. Chief Williams concluded his time with the class with plans to impact these areas with the aid of a grant funded video production studio for traffic safety education and the work to build traffic safety during major power outages by equipping patrol cars with the ability to temporarily power traffic signals and forty-three generator equipped intersections.

    New Hanover Sherriff’s representative Major Hart provided an overview of the work of the department in partnering in vulnerable communities with the addition of a Latino Vitim Advocate position and overdose detectives to help individuals transition to treatment in lieu of incarceration.

    The Honorable James H. Faison, III, District Court Judge of the Fifth Judicial District, was positively spellbinding as he shared his passion for impacting social issues for positive change. He believes the job of justice in a  community is a balance with initiatives such as the Drug Court program to focus offenders to treatment in lieu of jail time. Judge Faison left the class with the challenge as business and community leaders to do our part in the lives of our youth, by volunteering in the lives of young people who need our time and attention before they believe they are left without options to avoid people, places and things which will take them off a positive life trajectory.

    District Attorney Ben David followed up with a wealth of sobering statics on the impact of what he terms adverse community environments contributing to a resiliency score known as the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) score. His office studies and develops strategies to mitigate the challenges of poverty, inferior quality and access to housing, lack of economic opportunity, violence and discrimination in New Hanover and Pender counties. The evidence of these impacts is sobering; while 18% of the Wilmington MSA is comprised of people of color, 81% of victims of crime are people of color. DA David’s office processes more than 20,000 misdemeanors, 5,000 major crimes and 50,000 traffic tickets annually, yet for the past 17 years, the staff are encouraged to spend two hours per week volunteering in programs proven to contribute to stem the tide and build resilience.  Known as the Starfish Model, the areas of social impact on a community’s health are Non-profits, Government, Schools, Business and Faith. For those wishing to learn more about the connection, he recommended the documentary Resilience.

    Changing direction, our class received a pocket size study of Project Management success from our own Jon McLamb, LW class of 2022 and Project Management Office Leader for GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy. Feeling better prepared to lead successful projects for Work on Wilmington 2022, the class spent the second half of our session at LINC where Executive Director Frankie Roberts focuses residents of the post-incarceration transition program on turning setbacks into comebacks.

    Our class had the opportunity to meet residents and learn about their stories on what lead them to dedicate their new beginnings at LINC, where all residents are on teams to tend the vegetable farm, complete job, and independent living training. One of the persistent obstacles to successful transitions is the access to affordable housing for individuals in the face of housing discrimination for criminal convictions and lack of credit. LINC is working with NC Justice and the North Carolina Housing Finance Agency to address the challenges to bridge individuals into successful new beginnings.

    Our final visit was to the New Hanover County Detention Center for a tour of the steps taken to process, house, and care for those both awaiting trial and convicted of criminal offenses. The energy of our class took a decided turn as we navigated the corridors and experienced the confined conditions of inmates. There were several members of the class with direct experience with the detention center as volunteers, visitors and concerned parties. As our detention officer hosts explained, our class grasped the reality  that those in the detention center are just like those entrusted with maintaining their safety and confinement, save for what often is a single wrong decision. The humanity and compassion required to maintain this delicate balance was the most impactful lesson of the day. Laura led us in a classic box breathing exercise as we exited the facility and we shared impressions and processed all we learned in the session. One thing can be true of this and all our sessions; if we are not inspired to contribute to the change we need in our world, then we are not paying attention.

    P.S. LW class member Cammie Bellamy is organizing a collection of books for inmates at the NHCDC. If you are interested in participating, please reach out to her through our class roster, or as Alumni, through Laura Primavera at the Chamber office.

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