A nonviolence youth rally has been scheduled for September in the Pine Bluff School District aiming to curb the violence plaguing the community.
In 2023, to date, Pine Bluff has seen 10 homicides, with four known to have victims who were 18 and younger. The shootings have also left people -- some minors -- injured from gunshots.
With a mission to promote nonviolence around the state of Arkansas, DuShun Scarbrough, executive director of the Arkansas Martin Luther King Jr. Commission, has firmed up a date with the Pine Bluff School District to host a Nonviolence Youth Summit.
Scarbrough has been working with school officials in Pine Bluff, and with the recent turn of events, he said the commission is more committed than ever to helping.
"We work directly with youth and others, encouraging them to embrace alternatives to violence and discover their common humanity," said Scarbrough. "Through activities that stress racial and cultural diversity, the AMLKC offers Arkansans a new understanding of their important roles in the communities, now and in the future."
In 2014 the commission hosted one of its many missions: "Stop the Violence."
Held at the Pine Bluff Convention Center, over 1,000 attendees came from school districts from around the state for the historic movement. A march afterward included hundreds of students who chanted for "peace and harmony" through the streets of Pine Bluff.
"We marched from the Pine Bluff Convention Center to city hall where Tracy Martin, Trayvon [Martin's] father, spoke about nonviolence and education," said Scarbrough.
Trayvon Martin was the Florida teenager killed by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman in 2012. Scarbrough also returned to Pine Bluff in 2015 and 2016 for similar events.
"Pine Bluff is a great city with great people. We have not been there in a while, and we would like this program to be as successful as other programs that we have hosted across the state," Scarbrough said. "We realize that there are several factors and there is not an overnight solution. However, our goal is to work with those who are vested in our children."
According to Scarbrough, not only will he be partnering with the Pine Bluff School District, but also the Group Violence Intervention program will play a part in the nonviolence education.
"GVI under the leadership of Judge [Earnest] Brown [Jr.] and what they stand for is certainly a step in the right direction," said Scarbrough.
The Group Violence Intervention program, formally known as Gang Reduction Initiative of Pine Bluff, has several community leaders vested in the program like Pine Bluff Mayor Shirley Washington, Police Chief Denise Richardson, GVI program director Leanita Hughes, Sixth Division Judge Brown; Sheriff Lafayette Woods Jr., Circuit Court assistant chief juvenile officer Eric Warden; Chief Juvenile Officer Juawana Jackson, Pine Bluff School District Assistant Superintendent Phillip Carlock; clinical social worker Tasha Lewis, and Watson Chapel School District school improvement specialist Kerri McNeal.
The program's aim is to create a holistic approach and services that identify and eliminate obstacles to effectively intervene in the lives of at-risk young adults. It also aims to provide opportunities and options to end the cycle of violence in the city and is the first of its kind in the state of Arkansas, according to officials.
According to the National Network for Safe Communities, GVI focuses on the groups at highest risk for violent victimization and offending, with the intention to keep them alive, safe and out of prison.
"The Arkansas Martin Luther King Jr. Commission has agreed to partner and go into the schools with GVI," said Scarbrough. "Everything that you do for youth counts. As adults, we must model service and work together. The future of our youth is something that everyone can contribute to because in the words of Dr. King, 'What affects one directly, affects us all indirectly.'"
Other notable partnerships include the Arkansas Department of Education, Walmart, the Department of Human Services and Arkansas Better Dads.
The Commission will host a Nonviolence Youth Summit on Thursday, Sept. 28, 2023, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Pine Bluff High School Gymnasium. There will also be topical discussions on financial literacy, mental health, workforce development and keynote speakers who promote fatherhood, a desire to build communities and a passion to prevent violence.
"We want to hear from the youth," says Scarbrough. "We are coming into their structured learning environment to hear their voices."
"We, like many, are grieved that several cities are hurting because of senseless violence," he said. "We have hosted successful programming in Pine Bluff and look forward to hosting a couple of programs in the Pine Bluff area in partnership with Group Violence Intervention."
Quoting the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. "'It's going to be either nonviolence or nonexistence,'" Scarbrough said, adding that "we all have choices."