Community Responds to shootings
Easter event first of several planned
by W. Winston Skinner
Wet weather nixed the egg hunt at Central Educational Center on Saturday, but the atmosphere at the Community Easter Fest was one of buoyant hopefulness following deep tragedy.
The festival was planned in response to a spate of shootings in recent weeks. There were seven shootings in Coweta County from March 25 through early April.
Three young men died after being shot in the Chalk Level community, which is east of downtown Newnan.
Newnan Mayor Pro-Tem Cynthia Jenkins called a meeting of about 45 community leaders on April 1 to talk about the circumstances that led to the shootings. Bringing diverse parts of the community in general – and the Chalk Level neighborhood in particular – together was an initial goal.
The Easter Fest was the first planned step in that process. On Saturday, Jenkins rushed around with a radiant smile. The registration desk ran out of bags twice, and 308 people registered and got tickets for food.
“It turned out very well,” Jenkins said after the event. She said she heard “positive responses all the way around.”
The event had corporate sponsorship and brought together a large number of volunteers. Willie Pritchett, Kentrell Arnold and Clarence Bohannon were among those manning the grill – providing hot dogs and other food for the CEC cafeteria.
In the lobby of CEC, church groups and community organizations manned tables with information about programs – and offering Easter eggs and other candy as prizes. Daryle Smith of the Boys and Girls Clubs oversaw spirited rounds of Bingo with Easter baskets as prizes.
The Newnan Police Department, the Housing Authority of Newnan, Breakaway Childcare Center and the Cobras youth sports organization joined area churches in the lobby. A “go fish game” outside the front doors was popular, and groups of boys gathered for impromptu football games on the green grass in front of the school.
Indoors, helium balloons were given to youngsters in the lobby. After awhile, the cafeteria was a sea of color with balloons at almost every table. Rachel Strickland and Savannah Horn from Harvest Baptist Church distributed balloons and connected youngsters with a distinguished visitor, the Easter Bunny, who willingly posed for photographs.
Glenda Parks was clearly pleased as she looked around the CEC lobby at the flurry of activity and the smiling faces. “This is making history,” reflected Parks, who has been a street minister in the community for years.
“It’s time for us to come together. It’s been time,” she said.
The Easter event offered a way “to show compassion,” Parks said. “We want to stop all the killing. We want to stop all the shooting. We need to. We’ve got to.”
Parks said it is important for all parts of the community to be involved in reaching out following the violence.
The event celebrated “what brings our community together,” Jenkins said. “We decided to do this event in order for us to know each other better.”
During door prize presentations – at one point DesaRae Harrison pulled the winning cards from a box – Jenkins encouraged those attending to get involved with the Chalk Level Neighborhood Association, which meets the fourth Monday of each month at 6:30 p.m. at Newnan Chapel United Methodist Church. To find out what is happening in the neighborhood, “that’s the place to be,” she said.
She also talked about the Rocky Hill Neighborhood Association, which is being organized in an African-American neighborhood on the west side of town. The organization’s first meeting will be today at 6:30 p.m. at Mt. Sinai Baptist Church on Lovelace Street.
The Easter extravaganza was only the first step in a process of knowing and healing that is personal for Jenkins. “I live right here in Chalk Level,” she noted.
The next agenda item for the group that met at Newnan City Hall is a job fair aimed at people who have been incarcerated. That idea grew out of a project already planned at Oak Grove Baptist Church.
Jeremy Tuck, the pastor at Oak Grove, was one of many clergy at the Easter Fest. “This is a good start,” he said. “You have to start somewhere.”