ATLANTA — For Atlanta police Sgt. Shedarren Fanning, the shooting death of a 14-year-old boy over the July Fourth holiday weekend was not only a tragic reminder of how youth gun violence has continued to plague Atlanta neighborhoods, it was an affirmation of his belief that children who surround themselves with positive influences are less likely to fall victims to the streets.
“Most citizens believe that with juveniles out of school for the summer, they are responsible for the spike in crime because they have nothing to do in their free time,” said Fanning during a Zoom interview with Channel 2′s Michael Seiden earlier this month.
As city, county and state leaders continue to work on long-term solutions for fighting crime, Fanning and members of his nonprofit organization, Badge to Family Outreach, have decided to take matters into their own hands by raising money to send dozens of children to summer camp.
“It started off as a phone conversation with ATL Scoop about all the crime going in Atlanta,” he said. “We teamed up and decided to start a GoFundMe and start paying for kids to get into camp and that will give them something to do and give them a positive learning environment.”
Fanning said he and the popular social media page started searching for local day camps and eventually teamed up with The Salvation Army Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center in the city’s Pittsburgh community.
“A lot of the kids who live over in these particular areas have parents that can’t afford to take extra money out to send them to summer camp,” he added.
In a span of two weeks, the GoFundMe page helped raise nearly $4,000, which was enough to send 55 kids to the day camp, which serves K-8th grade boys and girls in the Atlanta-area.
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“We are having a great summer,” said Antione Terrell, director of Youth, Evangelism & Outreach at The Salvation Army. “We are focused on arts and academics. A lot of kids are behind after a year of remote learning, so we’re helping kids catch up. From an arts standpoint, we have professional organizations, like Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Atlanta Ballet, that are coming in and working with these children.”
Terrell said the camp offers a variety of other activities, including Taekwondo.
“This is all about exposing our kids to as many opportunities as possible,” he added. “We know that there are things that they will see every day, but we want to broaden their world. It’s also important to get them out of their comfort zone and try new things. We want them to build up that self-confidence, so they can continue to prosper.”
When he’s not patrolling the streets, Fanning is an active camp volunteer. He says that he’s working hard to improve the strained relationship between cops and communities of color.
“It’s unfortunate, but in Atlanta, kids are not raised to know that there are good cops,” Fanning said. “It’s very important for us to start bridging the gap and improving the relationship. I believe actions speak louder than words and that’s why we have to show them that we aren’t just going to show up when something is wrong. I want them to know that we are also members of the community, and we are here to help them succeed.
Fanning told Seiden that although he wears a badge, he understands the challenges and struggles that many of the campers are experiencing in their neighborhoods.
“I grew up in one of the toughest neighborhoods in Montgomery, Alabama,” said Fanning, who was raised by a single mother. “My neighborhood was full of gangs, but my mom, who raised six kids by herself, worked hard to keep us all out of trouble. She kept us in programs that kept us off the streets, and then she started designing her own programs for kids in the community.”
With less than a month before children return to school, Fanning is already making plans for next summer.
“This has been a great experience, and my hope is that we can raise even more money to send hundreds of kids next year,” he said.
Badge To Family Outreach is a 501-C3 nonprofit organization designed to bring a change in the lives of our children and family. The nonprofit also partnered with ATL Scoop and Atlanta City Councilman Michael Julian Bond.
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