With a population of just over 20,000, Kinston has been ranked among the highest in the state for violent crimes -- ranked #3 of North Carolina's most dangerous cities, with a resident having a 1-in-79 chance of being the victim of a violent crime in 2013. Throughout 2014, shootings became an almost regular occurrence in the city, and a common factor for many of them was the involvement of young people. I felt that this issue, along with drugs, poverty, the lack of jobs and poor education, disproportionately affected young people. We needed to be the ones who enacted change.
This led me to founding Kinston Teens, and focusing on the mission of empowering young people through service, leadership and civic engagement. Many local government agencies, religious organizations and civic groups had started initiatives and efforts to prevent violence and improve our community, but very few of them included young people at the center. Kinston Teens is youth-led and youth-centered, and we equip young people with the tools needed to make a difference.