A young activist is working to turn things around in his North Carolina neighborhood, starting with the creation of a local rec center that would serve as a safe space for the community’s youth.
Chris Suggs remembers the gun violence that plagued his hometown of Kinston, North Carolina, an area once listed as one of the most economically distressed communities in the state in 2014, according to the Center for Urban & Regional Studies.
“We began experiencing shootings after shootings, particularly amongst young people,” Suggs told ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “People I went to school with, and even my friends, were getting shot or shooting someone.”
He knew something needed to change, and so he resolved to be the change he wished to see.
At just 14 years old, Suggs launched Kinston Teens, an organization aimed at empowering the community’s youth through service and leadership. The group has affected “the lives of over 3,000 youths through our membership efforts, community workshops, … volunteer initiatives ” and more since its inception in 2014, according to its website.
“Engaging young people in different positive aspects of the community allows us to see major impacts on issues like gun violence, poverty and a lack of community morale,” Suggs said.
In 2017, just before kicking off his freshman year at the University of North Carolina, the local activist bought a foreclosed home for $1,000 and donated the property to his organization, “GMA” reports. And with that purchase came a vision for safer spaces for the community’s kids.
“The house was in pretty bad shape,” he said, noting that many homes in the neighborhood were crumbling and neglected. “The city started to demolish them to reduce blight. I wanted to purchase this home before it got demolished.”
Cue the birth of the Kinston Teens Neighborhood Hub. The 1,100-square-foot space is set to open its doors in May.
“We do have a few recreation centers in Kinston,” Suggs told “GMA,” “but having a space that’s youth-led and completely focused on young people is really important.”
It’s been all hands on deck as teens from the neighborhood pitch in to help renovate the old home. On the weekends, 18-year-old Keosha Arnold says she comes by to paint and brainstorm décor ideas.
The space, which has three open rooms and a kitchen, will provide a place for kids and teens to kick back after school, as well as access to technology and opportunities to meet with government representatives.
Suggs, who’s now juggling his college studies, said he hopes the property will help quell crime and keep local kids safe and out of trouble.