RICHMOND, Va. -- Community members gathered on Thursday evening for an urgent conversation to address gun violence in Richmond.
"When we can come together and we can work together, that's a great start," Pastor Robert Winfree said.
Pastor Winfree leads New Life Deliverance Tabernacle on Richmond's Southside, the spot where city leaders and community members met on Thursday night to offer solutions to stop gun violence.
"If you sit back and do nothing, you're doing something - you're adding to the problem," Winfree said.
The meeting comes during a significantly violent year in Richmond. So far, there have been 80 homicides reported in 2021, the highest number in at least 15 years.
Winfree wants the powers to be to pay attention to non-profit coordinators who are in communities day in and day out working to prevent and disrupt violence in its tracks.
"Most of the things being done right now with grassroots organizations and programs, we do it out of pocket," Winfree said.
He advocates for more public funding to invest in the youth at early ages in communities where young people are more susceptible to committing violence.
"A lot of times, our parents, for obvious reasons, and some not so obvious, they're not there. So hey, we can help," Winfree said.
The pastor meets with children in the Belt Atlantic Apartments every Tuesday for mentorship.
His team also volunteers to be "surrogate parents" to students without a steady support system at home and meets with them at school routinely to check-in.
"A lot of people just think this violence popped up out of nowhere," Winfree said.
Jackie Lawrence, the equity director with the Richmond Health District, said violent trends are directly related to systemic racism in Richmond. One of these things is redlining, a discriminatory hosing practice.
"If we look at those very same maps and we overlay those apps with where the gun violence is happening, we will see that in the East End area, we see a lot of violence. We see that was an area that was redlined," Lawrence said.
When shootings happen, the health district offers a trauma healing support response network.
"When there's an event that happens, people can kind of come around and wrap their arms around. And by doing that, it in itself turns into a prevention method," Lawrence said.
Winfree hopes that more prevention methods will be created after Thursday's meeting.
"I will say that it will get better. It will get better," Winfree.