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Norfolk State University tackles major concerns in forum with city leaders

Leaders with Norfolk State University and the city met for a forum Tuesday. It's the start of key partnerships and a call to action for the community join in.

NORFOLK, Va. — Norfolk leaders in government and public safety teamed up with leaders at Norfolk State University to break down growing concerns in the area, including violence and poverty. 

Forum mediator Eric Claville explained why and now, "the pandemic brought it to the forefront, and it allowed us to take a closer view of what those needs are."

Claville is also NSU's director of the African American Public Policy Center. 

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The forum panel included: 

  • Norfolk State University’s President – Dr. Javaune Adams-Gaston
  • City of Norfolk Mayor – Dr. Kenneth Alexander
  • City of Norfolk Police Chief - Larry D. Boone 
  • City of Norfolk Commonwealth Attorney – Ramin Fatehi 
  • Sustain Equity Group - Kayla Hicks
  • Interim Chief of Police at Norfolk State University Police Department  - Brian Covington 
  • Norfolk State University’s Sociology Professor – Dr. Robert Perkins 
  • Norfolk State University's Social Work Professor - Dr. Sharon Alston
  • Norfolk State University Student Government Association – President Jaylin Drewry 

They talked about the cycles of poverty and violence, which disproportionately plague Black and brown families.

"How do we build on the assets of those communities, of these communities," NSU Social Work Professor Dr. Sharon Alston employed to the crowd at the student center. 

Educators and experts from Norfolk State have long researched the issues. 

"I'm ready to put it [the research] in the Black community's hands," said NSU Sociology Professor Dr. Robert Perkins. 

Now, they want to embolden the community to join them.

"We just don't want to work with the community. We want actionable partnerships," said Police Chief Larry Boone. 

Claville says working with key leaders and community members from the city will help, "utilize our resources at the university, which is our intellect, our research, our knowledge base ... in collaboration and in conjunction with various agencies and the city itself."

Also hopeful for solutions, Commonwealth Attorney-Elect Ramin Fatehi expressed that increasing trust, accountability and visibility is a priority for his office. 

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Kayla Hicks of Sustain Equity Group wants to see more resources and funding to go to a specific place. She reflected on who's often left behind, after incarceration or a shooting death, "who is left to bear the burden, who's carrying that family now?"

"Until you start investing in a Black woman, you're going to keep getting the same results," she said. 

"People look to us an example," said resident Sharon Gomes. She told 13News Now she was pleased with this forum and that events like this are a productive start. 

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Norfolk State's student body president, Jaylin Drewry, advocated for the conversations to keep going.

"I believe we have to make Norfolk State the headquarters for mental health in our community," he said. 

Drewry also proposed that NSU help create after-school programs for youth in Norfolk.

The university's president, Dr. Javaune Adams-Gaston, said their scholars will be instrumental in making a difference.

"What we do matters," said Dr. Adams-Gaston. 

And everyone has a part in enacting change. 

“We’ve got to be engaging with our students, we’ve got to be engaged with our community," NSU Interim Chief of Police Brian Covington added.

Mayor Dr. Kenny Alexander also told the audience he wants Norfolk to set a nationwide trend, in the city's efforts to partner with NSU and the community. 

Several times, leaders emphasized that the forum was a great first step. They said the work absolutely continues and that the products of their partnerships will get them closer to solutions. 

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