A collaboration by Chattanooga area nonprofits and government agencies seeks to address the recent wave of violence in Chattanooga involving young people by providing a series of events giving children fun and safe activities as an alternative to getting involved with gangs and other illegal activity.
The events organized by the city of Chattanooga's Office of Community Health, Cempa Community Care and the Lighthouse Collective will kick off Sunday.
"One thing that continues, here in our community, is that our kids don't have anything to do," LaDarius Price, co-founder of the Lighthouse Collective, said in a telephone interview with the Chattanooga Times Free Press. "We wanted to provide something that was fun for our young people to engage in during the weekend. While it's only two hours, it gives them something positive to look forward to."
Price, who also works at Cempa as the organization's community outreach coordinator, said the issue of unsupervised teenagers hanging out downtown, which police believe contributed to a shooting incident that left six teenagers between the ages of 13 and 15 injured on May 28, served as motivation for those behind the effort.
The events, known as No Smoke Sundays, will kick off from 6-8 p.m. Sunday at Miller Park.
The name No Smoke Sundays is a play on a term used by teenagers to gain recognition or popularity amongst their peers.
"There is a term in our culture that says 'I want all the smoke' and it can be a good thing," Price said. "But I started to think about gun smoke and thought 'How about we don't want any of the smoke?' and that's how I came up with No Smoke Sunday."
IF YOU GO
What: No Smoke Sundays When: Every Sunday in July, starting on July 3. Time: 6-8 p.m. Where: Miller Park, East M.L. King Boulevard, Chattanooga.
Those who attend will be able to enjoy music from local DJs, food trucks and gaming trucks.
Ellis Smith, the spokesperson for the office of Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly, who has been vocal about stopping gun violence within the city, said the events are a way to go beyond the traditional forms of reaching out to the community while making elected officials and local leaders more available.
"One of the things that we want to do more of is to reach beyond our traditional comfort zones," Smith said. "Mayor Kelly has made it a priority to reach out, to hear their thoughts about things that we can do to help our neighborhoods."
Smith also said Kelly's commitment to creating a safer Chattanooga will continue beyond these events.
"The mayor has been clear in his commitment to bring options and opportunity to our city's youth," Smith said. "At a time when the weather is nice and kids are looking for things to do, the city is playing a role today and will be playing a larger role in the future in providing programming and mentorship to engage with one another in a safe environment with trusted adults and to have fun."
The goal for the mayor's office and for Price is to have more accessibility, beyond community and activity centers, for Chattanooga's youth and their families to engage with one another.
Price added that he's trying a different approach and bringing positive role models to be available to speak one on one with children instead of talking on a stage.
After a recent roundtable discussion in Brainerd, "a lot of the kids came over and spoke to the leaders one one one, discussing things with them that they didn't want to with the group," Price said. "That's why I decided to not have them speak on a stage for 5 or 10 minutes."
Price said the event will be available to anyone who wants to come together and engage and is open to the possibility of the event going on past the planned month of July.
"It gives the opportunity for kids from out of town to come and gather. Once we bring them together, they're able to see they're a lot more similar than they understand," Price said.
Eight days after the May shooting, another, larger shooting incident occurred on June 5 on McCallie Avenue that left three dead and 14 injured. One of those injured was a 16-year-old boy.
Soon after both shooting incidents, the Lighthouse Collective hosted a series of events aimed at high school students asking how gun violence was affecting them. Some of the students said the shootings left them feeling numb, hopeless and afraid to leave the house.
"We want to have a safe environment where they can just come and hang out," Price said.