University of Delaware Professor Yasser Payne’s Efforts to Decrease Wilmington’s Crime Rate
Growing up running the streets of Harlem, Payne’s seen more than his share of violence—and he believes he has a way to end it. Will it change a troubled Wilmington?
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With a federal grant secured through Wilmington’s HOPE Commission (set up during the administration of Mayor Jim Baker in 2006 to address violent crime in the city) and the Christina Cultural Arts Center, Payne and others identified hard-to-employ residents of Wilmington’s East Side and Southbridge to train, then put to work, as researchers. The team members created an 18-page survey of more than 250 questions, then hit the neighborhoods. They eventually collected information from one-third of the population, a statistically huge sample that allows for very accurate prediction of behavior, chief among them: violence increases when employment and educational opportunity are lacking.
Perhaps that’s not surprising. “I am aware of the problems,” says Raye Jones Avery, director of the CCAC. “My neighborhood is hellish. But to see it captured in a documentary, for others to see the despair in people’s faces, is a whole other matter.”
In addition to job training and education, the Wilmington Street PAR Project has an action component based on the arts. Part of that was a CCAC exhibit that profiled eight local victims of handgun violence. Part of that was “The People’s Report” documentary.
Produced by Teleduction of Wilmington as part of its socially conscious Hearts and Minds Films initiative, “The People’s Report” introduces viewers to the PAR project through members of the PAR family, summarizes the views community residents have about their challenges, shows young men in a barbershop explaining their attitudes toward crime and violence and, in an especially poignant scene, shows the emotional damage of violence as a group of mothers explain their grief over the violent deaths of their sons.
Yet “The People’s Report” also explains the love and hope people have for their communities. “PAR organized everyone around the concept that people are valuable,” says team member Darryl Chambers. “We love each other, and we have a role in changing things for ourselves.”
Chambers grew up on the East Side and North Side, graduated Howard Career Center, then became the first in his family to attend college. Without funding for graduate school, he started to sell drugs to finance his continuing education. “I loved school, man. I could listen to people lecture all day,” he says. “I was not on the street to line my pocket.” He served 12 years in prison, then, went to work for the HOPE Commission. The commission is especially interested in understanding the effects of incarceration on the community, so executive director Charles Madden saw Payne’s project as a way to learn more. Through HOPE, Chambers hooked up with PAR. One important outcome of his participation: He is working on a doctorate in criminology.
Like Chambers, Jonathan Wilson Jr. found the PAR team shortly after release from jail. He had spent his adult life in and out of the correctional system in Delaware County, Pa., for various drug offenses before moving to Wilmington in 2009 to start over.