At least eight young people were killed in St. Petersburg in the final weeks of 2015. The string of violence led the city's mayor to pledge $1 million toward programs to curb the problems. The first initiative toward that end started this week with the hiring of the city's first community intervention director.
Cortnei Davis is the proud mom of a 7-year-old boy. She says he's well behaved and gets good grades. But living in south St. Pete, she worries about his safety every day and what he sees in his neighborhood.
"I'm hopeless. I would have to say because I don't see anything being done, nothing taking place. Not too long ago, it was days after days after days of kids getting shot and nothing's been taking place," said Davis.
All that violence, and young lives lost, is exactly why Rev. Kenny Irby is ready to get to work. This week, he started his new role as the City of St. Petersburg's first community intervention director. His mission is a lofty one: To stop the constant cycle of violence.
"This didn't just happen. We're looking at the amalgamation of a lot of neglect and a lot of misdirection, and it's going to take time. I'm just really excited about the fact the police department and mayor have made this major commitment," Irby said.
He believes the key to improvement in the city starts with building strong relationships and partnerships with businesses, schools and organizations. Irby said there are some things that can be done right away to help, like creating a better system to flag students who are truant or drop out so they can get connected to a mentor before they wind up in bigger trouble. And the grand vision involves creating pathways to help every young person find success.
"We have to create opportunities, internships and apprenticeships, so young people who don't go to college can still know there are alternatives for them to make the almighty dollar, but do it in a way that's upright and honorable," Irby said.
But Davis is still skeptical.
"To be honest, actions speak louder than words, so I have to see it to believe it," Davis said.
Irby said he is confident people in St. Petersburg will believe his words, as he gets to work, rolling out initiatives to stop you from turning to a life of crime.