TUPELO • Concerned citizens and civic leaders are joining forces to reduce gun violence, especially among the city’s youth.

The initiative was prompted in part by the shooting deaths of two Tupelo High School seniors since January.

The group, spearheaded by University of Mississippi adjunct professor of social work Shelia Nabors, has embarked on a four-phase initiative to start a serious conversation about gun violence and how it affects children. The eight-week endeavor will culminate Aug. 8 when the group presents their findings during a Community Impact Day.

“We will start with a meeting Thursday night at 5:30 at the Link Centre,” Nabors said. “It is an overview of the whole initiative. We are targeting the youth and young adults (ages 12-25).

“This came about as a desire to save our next generation of leaders. We have to do something to tell the youth how to stay safe and how to recognize a situation has gone volatile and gun violence is possible.”

The first phase of the project was to identify the stakeholders. Nabors already has the Tupelo Police Department, the city of Tupelo, Lee County Youth Court and the church community on board.

“Crimes involving children and guns have escalated in our court,” said Lee County Youth Court Judge Staci Bevil. “That coupled with the senseless recent deaths of some of our children due to gun violence has brought this issue front and center. We have to become proactive and we are excited to see what results this collaboration will produce.”

In addition to introducing the initiative, this week’s meeting is to identify and train interviewers for the project. The initiative will use interviewers throughout the target age range to conduct peer to peer interviews.

“By having youth interview youth, we hope to get more open responses,” Nabors said. “We are asking each person to interview at least five peers.”

The results of the surveys will be turned in by June 22. The raw data will be analyzed by University of Mississippi interns. The survey findings will be used in a series of small groups in July where peers will discuss problem solving, deescalation techniques, and what to do when situations are life threatening

“The small groups will meet for 90 minutes on two Saturdays,” Nabors said. “We will then gather as a large group for a couple of weekends to discuss all the issues and to bring everything together into a single plan.”

The results of the initiative will be presented Aug. 8 at the Link Centre. The Community Impact Day will include speakers, community activities as well as a dramatization of the impact of gun violence.

Nabors noted this initiative is not an effort to diminish citizens’ constitutional right to own and bear arms.

Anyone interested in taking part in the project is invited to attend the introductory and training session at 5:30 p.m. at the Link Centre in Tupelo. The meeting will be held in the auditorium/sanctuary where there is plenty of room to social distance.

Anyone who cannot attend the meeting but is interested in participating should call 662-350-0579.

william.moore@journalinc.com

Twitter:@WilliamMoore_DJ

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