Lack of funding shelves Wichita Walk Against Gang Violence

06/21/2014 5:37 PM

06/22/2014 12:07 PM

For the first time in five years, there will be no Wichita Walk Against Gang Violence.

The organization that put together the annual walk – Safe Streets – didn’t have the resources to organize the walk after a grant it depended on wasn’t renewed.

“The big picture is that Wichita has very little interest in nonprofit groups doing crime prevention,” said the Rev. David Fulton, pastor of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church and founder of Safe Streets, a nonprofit organization that focuses on community mobilization, youth engagement and building partnerships.

“That’s not to be critical. That’s just the way it is.”

The state statute regulating how liquor tax revenues are distributed stipulates that one-third goes toward programs that focus on substance abuse prevention or treatment. Safe Street Youth Corps’ focus was on gang intervention, said Jeannette Livingston, who served as a contract administrator for ComCare at the time of the application reviews.

For calendar year 2014, the local liquor tax coalition received 19 proposals totaling more than $2 million in funding requests, Livingston said. The coalition had $1.5 million available for grants distributed through ComCare.

“It is a competitive process,” she said. “It always requires difficult choices.”

Last year’s “gang walk” drew an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 people, Fulton said. The event included booths featuring a variety of programs and activities young people could become involved in.

Beyond the numbers, Fulton said, the event was valuable for bringing people from different circles together for a common cause.

“That coming together is tremendously energizing for all those involved,” he said. “That’s what was lost – the conversation.”

Wichita police Capt. Troy Livingston called the absence of the walk “a missed opportunity” to educate people about the dangers of gang involvement and bring awareness.

Still, he said, “gang prevention is not just about one thing. It’s a network of public, private and community partnerships.

“The best and strongest gang prevention strategies are good, strong families and good, strong mentoring programs.”

Community participation in the walk has waned over the past few years, Troy Livingston said.

“A gang walk really should be a community-driven activity, and we are more than happy to assist and help,” he said. “If it’s not community-driven, you’re not going to get the participation.”

City Council member Lavonta Williams, who has been a supporter of the gang walk since its inception, said she hopes to find a way to keep the event alive in some form this year.

“I’d like to incorporate it into the Black Arts Festival” later this year, Williams said. “I’d like to keep it going by including it in that parade.”

Ideally, she said, there could be a community discussion after the parade about gang awareness. But Williams said she hopes this would be a one-time collaboration.

“We would like to have it as its own stand-alone walk so that it gets the attention that it deserves,”

Fulton said he hasn’t given up hope of reviving the Walk Against Gang Violence next year. Safe Streets has submitted an application for a Drug Free Communities Grant that would provide $125,000 a year for five years.

“If we got that, the gang walk would be on our to-do list,” he said. “It’s a great way to create partnerships with the city.”

Williams said she will be looking for funding as well.

“It’s very, very important,” she said of the walk. “This is something that we’re not going to give up on.”

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