Changing our community—one step at a time

| October 24, 2013
Denise Porter-Ross Leathers

Denise Porter-Ross Leathers


In Fort Wayne, we often talk about “back in the day” or describe places as where something used to be. If you don’t know what I mean, just look at the example of the recent grand opening of Costco Wholesale Store and the new location of Kelly Chevrolet. No matter what the street signs or GPS says, even the media described the location as “where Seyferts Potato Chips used to be.” Herein is a problem in our community. As we reminisce about how things were in the past, we must be willing to make some changes to take the steps necessary to build a prosperous future for the next generations.

Back in January of this year, I wrote of the deaths of two young men, and I said at that time, as tragic as it was, we had seen it happen over and over again—so often that we had become numb to the mounting tragedies. Now 10 months later, more than 30 deaths have occurred on our streets so far this year. It is obvious that the status quo isn’t working for us now, so if we don’t do something different soon, this negative trend will prevent us from having the future for which we have hoped.

Whether you live in the urban center of Fort Wayne, or not, this violence and lack of action to address this problem affects all of us. Businesses are reluctant to invest in a community that doesn’t take care of its own residents, and we need these businesses and the jobs that they bring so that we can be self-sufficient. But if businesses feel that their investment is at risk, they will bypass Fort Wayne and put their resources elsewhere. Some of us might recall the cities that endured riots in the 1960s, and even though a small minority of the population committed violent acts, the majority of the community was left scarred and devastated. We cannot afford to let a few troubled young people who don’t have hope for themselves create a wasteland of our community that will take generations to rebuild… again. But our shared hope for all of us begins with actions. We must begin to talk and walk together one step at a time.

It has often been said, “Those that don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” When I worked for city government, I had a picture in my office of the proposed highway system that Fort Wayne had an opportunity to build shortly after World War II. I called it “Fort Woulda-Coulda-Shoulda” because it reminded me that the steps that we don’t take can be just as costly as those that we do. Whether it was racism, economics or a combination of both that kept us frozen from taking a step in 1950, we can not let it continue to lock us into inaction in 2013. We must embrace change in a matter that moves our talking points into action steps now.

The talking started earlier this year in many large community meetings and small teams or focus groups. Everyone had an opportunity to voice their ideas and meld them into a coalition of individuals and organizations that are focused on Building Bridges for a Better Community. From this effort, many churches, schools, businesses, Fort Wayne Urban League and other non-profit organizations have worked together to create the Fort Wayne Community Action Plan Against Violence to look at long term solutions to stop this type of negative activity and create positive opportunities for our young people so that they will stay in school, gain skills to get and keep jobs, become law abiding citizens and have hope for their futures. While no one plan can be perfect and address every possible issue, this plan is our best hope for a foundation on which to build our future together.

It is difficult to reduce this 47-page document into a few short sentences or sound bites, but I want to highlight some points and strategies from the focus groups.

The REVIEW team looked at past and/or present successful programs in and/or outside of Fort Wayne.

The DATA team researched and compared data regarding statistics around employment, education, attainment, crime rate, affordable and livable housing and supportive services on the central and southeast side of Fort Wayne.

The PROGRAM team considered existing community programs as well as new innovative programs to assist with creating a new healthy community culture.

The SPECIAL EVENTS team looked at keeping the issue of reducing violence in top of mind awareness and in the public consciousness. Activities included things like gun amnesty, public marches, sporting events, parent conferences and similar activities.

The POLICE and COMMUNITY RELATIONS team worked with the FWPD to create an improved relationship, i.e. promoting better communications methods of reporting crime and encouraging open dialogue.

The post secondary EDUCATION team looked at the educational and skill building options for the target area.

The MENTAL and Physical HEALTH team looked at access to mental and physical health services, awareness to mental and physical health services to remediate anger, depression, drug addiction, family dysfunction as well as physical wellness.

The CHURCH and Religious team was charged with galvanizing the faith community as an active participant in the community plan essentially putting faith in action. You can read the entire report online at the Urban League’s website,, or Frost’s website,

This plan will be publicly presented to a special combined session of the City Council and the Mayor of the City of Fort Wayne at 5:30 p.m., Oct. 29, at Citizens Square. While we know that elected officials and community leaders will be there, it is important that the rest of us, from grandmothers to high school students attend as well to show our united front to take the steps necessary to reclaim our community.

This is OUR community and it is OUR future that is at stake. If we do nothing, nothing will change and the senseless violence will continue to erode our community and prosperity for all of us. Fifty years from now when we look back at this period, we want to remember that we did take the steps needed to build a better future, and not fall back to the “woulda-coulda-shoulda” position of our dark past.

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Category: Crime & Safety, Events, Local, Opinion

About the Author ()

Denise Porter-Ross Leathers has worked with faith-based and community initiatives in Fort Wayne for over 25 years. After 10 years on the staff of the Mayor for the City of Fort Wayne, Denise now works with Fort Wayne Urban League and other non-profit organizations teaching self- sufficiency programs.

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