RICHMOND, Virginia — Attorney General Jason Miyares stopped at the Calhoun Community Center in Gilpin Court, a low-income neighborhood with a local reputation for violence. Miyares met privately with local leaders and parents and handed out backpacks with school supplies to residents as part of a series of stops he is making around Virginia.

“I came here to the Calhoun Center to hear what was happening, and what people are saying is happening,” Miyares told reporters after the Thursday meeting. “A lot of it was about school safety, but also about larger issues in the community.”

He highlighted money in the recently passed Virginia budget for school resource officers, and said, “I had a chance to just talk about some of the programming that we have that actually gets run out of here at the Calhoun Center, but also things like the Virginia Rules program which teaches good citizenship.”

He said that he heard moving stories from the local leaders and parents who want more programming, more parental involvement, and for the Calhoun Center, currently closed to most events, reopened.

“Anytime you’re an elected official you can be in a bubble, and one thing I love to do is get out of my office and get around the commonwealth and hear the challenges directly,” he said.

School and Nonprofit Needs

Richmond School Board Member Mariah White was present at the meeting, and told Miyares what she wanted for the community.

“What I want, I asked today, is to ensure that we have the right programs in our schools,” White said.

“There’s dealing with substance abuse, suicides, we have some gang violence, gun violence. These are the things that we don’t have enough money [for]. We’re not fully funded every year, and if his department could actually give us the resources, and also to have the Calhoun Center open for our students, this is a safe haven for them. And also to see if somewhere we can get our parents involved with incentives, initiatives, or whatever they could do to make sure that the parents are involved with our students. We are really lacking that in the Richmond Public Schools, and we need that,” she said.

“The number one thing that I hope that comes out of it is I hope it doesn’t just end up being a photo-op,” Ray Neblett told The Virginia Star. “I understand that photo-ops are necessary to generate the type of attention and everything that these communities for years have been needing.”

The Ray Neblett Inner City Foundation is a nonprofit focused on using basketball to help young people. Neblett said they reach about 400 people a year, but with more funding could have a broader impact.

“We teach life skills and basketball skills, you know, the fundamentals of life and the fundamentals of basketball. I grew up around here, I went to Virginia Union to play basketball there, went on to the championship, so I’ve got some notoriety in this neighborhood. So I use that same notoriety to try to generate mentorship ways that we can attack the behaviors that’s leading up to the statistics that we see,” Neblett said.

“One of the things I need the attorney general to do is funding. We need funding for the concept and what it takes to implement these programs. And we need togetherness. It’s not his job to pour money into something that isn’t working. We want to be able to have these programs vetted, and let’s put this program in the light. Let’s see if this program works,” he said.

Neblett warned against just giving away money through programs based on eligibility, but said that grassroots programs like his sports program help attack root problems.

Nonprofit organization Concerned Brothers for Gilpin Vice President Isaac Carter said the discussion with the attorney general focused on school safety, housing conditions, and how the Calhoun Center could better serve the community.

“We’re all basically on the same mode, which is that you need mentoring. You need people that are going to be there on a consistent basis to help these kids. Learn, adjust. If you have mental health issues, if you just have behavior issues, or just if you need someone to talk to because you had a rough day. Living in this neighborhood, you may even have a rough life, but here is somebody that genuinely cares,” he said.

Carter said that once leaders ask what is needed they need to be prepared to follow through.

“A lot of times we’re asked questions about what we need – this, that, and the other – and there’s nothing done after that,” he said.

“We’ll see. We’ll see what happens,” Carter said.

“It was heartfelt listening to the people around that table,” said Associate Director for the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development Bill Curtis. Curtis is also the chair of the Virginia Beach GOP.

“Some of them became very passionate and emotional because they’re looking for help. They’ve been asking for help. And there’s a lot of things going on, a lot of people trying, but there’s nothing consistent. There’s nothing structural.”

“What they told us there was, ‘Listen, we just want basic safety. We want engagement. We’re sort of trapped here, and we appreciate having a place to live but we want this to be a viable place where we can thrive. Where our kids can thrive and they can feel safe, and an environment that this community center and the city is going to provide for them.’”

“You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure this out. Just consistently and sincerely address the needs of the people, because they want to be helped,” he said.

Curtis said he thought Governor Glenn Youngkin and Miyares are going in the right direction.

He said, “I think the administration recognizes the problem, and they are trying to come up with solutions that will address that problem. It’s not going to address everything at one time, and it’s going to have to be implemented over a long-term period, but I think that they do, I really think they understand it, they’re sincere, and they want to work with community local leaders to do just that.”

– – –

Eric Burk is a reporter at The Virginia Star and The Star News Network

This article originally appeared in The Virginia Star. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of The Republican Standard. Republished with permission.