Community forum revolves around youth, unity

Published 12:04 am Tuesday, October 31, 2017

NATCHEZ — Community leaders gathered Monday night at New Hope the Vision Center church to discuss a myriad of the city’s problems, but the primary topic quickly became Natchez’s youth.

Bishop Stanley Searcy Sr. mediated the panel of approximately 30 men and women asked to come together in the name of unity.

Despite a plethora of topics, ranging from crime and schools to city governance and economy, almost every speaker focused on the importance of education and positive role models.

Email newsletter signup

Among the panel were representatives from the chamber of commerce, the board of aldermen, the police department and sheriff’s office, local judges and representatives of every private and public school system.

The lights above the stage in the church’s sanctuary, which were meant to turn yellow or red to indicate that the conversation was straying from positive suggestions into more divisive discourse, never changed from green.

“It’s going to take a lot of investment for us to save this community,” Adams County Sheriff Travis Patten said. “We can’t divide and conquer. We have to stand in unity.”

Much of the conversation in the first hour of the meeting centered on schools and the availability for collaboration between public and private institutions.

Natchez-Adams School District Superintendent Fred Butcher said he wanted the approximately 150 attendees of the forum to understand that all systems of education have a place in Natchez.

“We’re not at war with recreation,” Butcher said. “We’re not at war with Cathedral, ACCS (Adams County Christian School), or Trinity.”

When the conversation turned to crime in the city, Interim County Prosecutor Aisha Sanders spoke to the importance of having “community policing” in which parents and citizens take an active role in positively influencing Natchez youth.

“Education and recreation are the key to our community,” Sanders said. “Someone here mentioned that it takes a village to raise a child. Let’s be that village.”

Even when the conversation led to the rise of drug abuse in the city, Circuit Court Judge Lillie Blackmon Sanders said children who grow up with role models that have substance abuse issues are more likely to develop those same problems.

The answer, she said, lies in creating a more supportive community that supports its youth.

Natchez Police Department Chief Walter Armstrong said he hopes the unity that the city leaders showed in the meeting is enacted.

“Unity — we have to mean it when we say it,” Armstrong said.

Often, however, the conversations among city leaders were aimed not toward one another, but toward the crowd that had gathered for the forum.

Natchez resident Marge Moore said she wished local officials would come together more often.

“It’s true,” she said. “We need to come together. I have learned so much here tonight.”

Searcy said early in the meeting that he expected no great solutions to arise. Rather, he said he wanted to encourage an environment in which city leaders could more easily work together.

“I think it went well,” Searcy said. “It’s a start.”