People in Chester County are scared, says community activist Demarcus Crank.
Ongoing gang violence and recent shootings – many committed by young people – have left many people afraid, he said. It’s time for Chester to better serve local youth and focus on a grassroots effort to combat crime, Crank said this week.
He hopes the Chester Hoodie Awards on Saturday is a step in the right direction. Crank, 34, and his nonprofit group Let’s Get It Entertainment are hosting the event.
The local Hoodie Awards aims to raise money for a Back to School Bash on Sunday in Chester and “Project S.T.O.R.M,” an initiative led by the Chester County Sheriff’s Office to guide children away from crime. Sheriff Alex Underwood started the project last January.
The Chester program is a spinoff of Steve Harvey’s Neighborhood “Hoodie” Award show, which was held in Atlanta last weekend. In its 12th year, Harvey’s award show has gained popularity by recognizing businesses and organizations that are important to African-Americans but often ignored by mainstream media.
Harvey’s show features awards such as “Best Barber Shop” and “Best Church Choir.” The Atlanta event drew nearly 20,000.
In Chester, Crank says about 2,000 people have participated in online voting for this weekend’s Hoodie Awards. The ballot features more than 50 categories, most with local picks.
From best high school football team to best motorcycle in town, the Chester Hoodie Awards are intended to to give a pat on the back to local community members. Awards will also be given to businesses such as doctor’s offices, insurance companies, car shops and funeral homes.
The event will also give away Chester’s first “Best Neighborhood Award,” a favorite bus driver honor and recognition of the best hand-wash car wash and “shade-tree mechanic.”
But Crank says he wants people to “attend for the reason, not for the show.” Chester has experienced what feels like a surge in crime recently, he said.
What started as “one person doing it and everybody copies that” has resulted in fear among parents and families in the community, Crank said. A barber at Shelton’s Barber Shop in Chester, Crank often hears the community concerns and complaints.
Local law enforcement held a community meeting last month where some residents’ concerns surfaced. The “gang summit” was held the week after 16-year-old Shyheim Kennedy was shot to death and left in the middle of Pinckney Street near downtown Chester.
Police later arrested 17-year-old Robert Isaiah Graham and charged him with murder. Authorities claim that Graham is a member of the Roundtree Circle gang, one of at least four street gangs operating in the county.
Chester County deputies and local police have also dealt with other violent crimes in recent months, including a man shot three times in his car near a railroad track by Clack’s convenience store earlier this month.
When someone is shot or stabbed or robbed in Chester, people talk about it for weeks, Crank said. “The older people are really scared.”
Some Chester residents see crime in their neighborhoods and may be afraid to report it to police, he said, because of fear that the person arrested will retaliate. Others don’t know how to spot or react to the warning signs of troubled youth.
At the Hoodie Awards, organizers and activists plan to confront both angles of the violence problem. Crank has invited some local teenagers to speak to the crowd about the youth crime problem and what the community may be able to do to fight it.
Crank hopes the event raises both money and awareness. The event, he said, will be “high-energy” and “joyful.”
He’s urging the community to act. “We can’t just wait on the police to solve everything,” he said.
Crank says local law enforcement can’t be every place in Chester, and officers rely on the community to call in tips and notify them of criminal activity.
Chester residents also need to come together, he said, to find ways to engage local youth in positive activities that will keep them busy and away from crime. Many children and teenagers are talented and need a place to explore music, creative arts and other skills, Crank said.
“All of these kids just need love.”