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Williams missed an opportunity

Published: Mon, August 15, 2011 @ 10:56 a.m.

By Bertram de Souza (Contact)

As Jay Williams was departing Youngstown and giving up the office of mayor for bigger and better things in Washington, D.C., a 17-year-old black youth was lying in the morgue another victim of the citys cycle of violence.

When Williams took office in 2006 as Youngstowns first elected black chief executive, the black community was crumbling under the weight of crime, unemployment, deteriorating neighborhoods, broken families and failing inner city schools. There were many residents who believed or were desperate to believe that unlike his predecessors, all white men, he would be able to take on the problems confronting the black community without being labeled a racist.

Strong background

After all, not only had Williams served as director of the Community Development Agency in the administration of George M. McKelvey, but he had come to city government from the banking industry.

He was educated, well-spoken, knowledgeable and had played a major role in the development of Youngstown 2010, the road map to the citys future.

To be sure, there was some progress made during his tenure in stopping the downward spiral of the black population, but as the July 29 killing of Braylen Collins of West Glenhaven Avenue illustrated, deep-rooted problems remain. Braylen was shot in the chest; police found him lying on the living room floor of a Summer Street home. There had been an exchange of gun fire in the area of West Evergreen Avenue and Summer Street.

What is telling about the killing of this young man is that his father, Jermaine Collins, also died violently 17 years ago. He was found shot six times outside a home in the 500 block of Griffith Street on the citys North Side.

Braylen was born a month after his father was killed.

It is this cycle of violence that former Mayor Williams failed to end. Perhaps he should have spent more time at the Mahoning County High School, which was created by the Juvenile Court and sponsored by the county Educational Service Center for students who have been expelled or have dropped out of their regular schools. Had he done so, he would have met Braylen Collins and heard about the young mans dreams and aspirations.

Or, Williams would have met a young woman who was living such a hellacious life at home that she asked Judge Theresa Dellick to allow her to spend the night at the juvenile detention center. Her mother was a crack addict who entertained men also on drugs. The young woman did not feel safe in the house.

Williams also should have spent time at the North Side swimming pool, where he would have seen teenage mothers chatting with young men while their babies lay in their strollers in the searing heat.

The future

He could have asked these young mothers what they believe lies ahead for them. Indeed, he could have spoken to the young men whose chances of graduating from high school, let alone college, are slim, and whose prospects of finding a job are virtually nil. The unemployment rate of young black men in the city of Youngstown is at least 17 percent.

Or, Williams, as mayor, could have talked to suburbanites who work in the city or visit downtown for entertainment. He would have gotten some insight into a reality this writer calls The Havana Syndrome.

Suburbanites who work or play in Youngstown never venture off the prescribed route for getting to and from their city destinations. They dont see the gang territories, the war zones, the crack houses and pot-holed streets.

The suburbanites can be likened to the Canadians and Europeans who have made Cuba a popular vacation destination. They fly into the Jos Marti International Airport in Havana, are whisked through immigration and customs, get in a taxi or bus and are taken directly to top-rated resorts.

There, without a care in the world, they are wined and dined 24 hours a day, with staff catering to their every need. The tourists dont see the poverty, the despair, the lack of lifes necessities, such as medicine.

Similarly, Youngstowns underbelly is never seen by the outsiders, who strongly supported Jay Williams tenure as mayor.

Williams missed a chance to make a difference in the black community.

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