WILKES-BARRE – The Rev. Shawn Walker had a conversation Monday with members of the Downtown Residents Association on the next steps needed in the Building Bridges initiative.
Pat Parks, coordinator for the residents association, said the talk, at Wilkes University's Henry Student Center, went well and her organization will do what it can to help Walker and the Rev. Michael Brewster, co-founders of the initiative, achieve their goals.
Building Bridges was founded after the shooting death of Walker's distant cousin, Tyler Winstead, who was found shot on a sidewalk outside a Hill Street house on April 5. Initially, Elijah Yusiff, a friend of Winstead, said it was drive-by shooting, but investigators determined the shooting occurred in Yusiff's home and the boy accidentally shot Winstead with a handgun kept in the residence.
At a series of seven public meetings, in all city neighborhoods, data were gathered and committees were set up to address peer pressure and bullying prevention, parent awareness and partnerships, youth recreation and mentorship, preventing adolescent access to weapons and drugs, and a neighborhood enrichment coalition.
Walker said the organization has filed an application to become a 501-3-C non-profit organization. He said he and Brewster and Assistant City Attorney Bill Vinsko are the first three board members. More will be appointed, Walker said, based on their expertise in the issues the committees identified. Pastor Brewster and I are not experts, Walker said. We identified a need in this community and addressed it. We want to see this through so that Tyler's death will not have been in vain.
Walker said identifying the issues was the easy part and finding solutions will be more difficult.
I think we tried to do too many things at once, he said. We feel we're on the right track now.
Walker said he and other group members traveled to Newark, N.J., to meet with Mayor Corey Booker and representatives of Newark Now, which was formed to address problems similar to Wilkes-Barre's.They validated everything we were trying to do here, Walker said. They offered sincere help for us and helped us get on track.
Walker said Building Bridges has narrowed its scope. Its first goal is to establish a youth center in the city where children can participate in educational and counseling programs. We have a lot of ideas, Walker said. We have a plan, but it's not doing any good on a sheet of paper.
To build bridges, Walker said, his organization needs the community to take ownership, to get involved and help.
I'm the parent of a 17-year-old, a 10-year-old and a 7-year-old, he said. It's scary. There's a lot of violence out there. I don't agree with all of those social-media postings that suggest people should leave Wilkes-Barre. I want to stay here, and I want it to be safe for my children. I don't think leaving is the thing to do.
Walker said the city has applied for a $40,000 grant in gaming money to get the center established. He said the community has to be willing to help to build solid bridges.