LaGRANGE — After a spike in violent crimes during the summer, a group of local business owners and community activists decided to influence change.
The anti-violence group Unity in the Community staged three marches earlier this year and Sunday hosted the inaugural Peace Zone Fall Festival at the William H. Griggs Recreation Center on Glenn Robertson Drive.
“We really were tired of seeing all the violence, especially coming from such young people,” said organizer David Simpson, who owns the Northside Barber Shop on Ridley Avenue.
Simpson approached Nate Newton, who owns the Razor Cutz Barber Shop off Hogansville Road, and the two — along with others — used their connections as barbers to rally the community. They’re trying to use their message to influence young people and parents alike.
“We wanted to use our affiliations to connect with other organizations, like churches,” Simpson said. “The idea was to use the barber shops as the nucleus. Barber shops are where people connect, they gather there and talk. We want to get everyone together and we feel like this is a way to unify our community.”
Sunday’s fall festival featured motivational speakers, hoola hoop and jump rope contests for kids, inflatable jump houses, hot dogs, hamburgers and plenty of candy for youngsters.
About 300 people sat in the Griggs center’s gymnasium as Inetha Hatten, who works with the outreach arm of the LaGrange Housing Authority, as she shared her personal story.
“When I was growing up, my mother allowed the neighborhood to look out for me, too,” she said. “If you’re a parent, and the dad doesn’t want to step up, you have to work a little harder. You have to find a mentor for your kids. We all have to be the best person we can be.”
Hatten noted that if the small group of business owners and activists could pack 300 people into a gym, “imagine what kind of impact we could do as a whole if everyone in this room started loving each other?”
Quay Boddie, a teacher who also spoke at the fall festival, encouraged people to keep a positive attitude “even in through the storms of life,” he said.
“Your attitude is contagious,” Boddie said. “Positivity creates positivity. That’s what’s going to make this community better. When I was growing up, we didn’t have all these shootings. Things have changed. It’s time for people to stop saying they want to be positive, and actually be positive.”
Tyler H. Jones is a reporter at LaGrange Daily News. He may be reached at 706-884-7311, ext. 2155.