By Brittney Gathen

Causing collective change and restoring community members’ ties to each other seemed to be at the forefront of state Rep. Antonio Parkinson’s mind.

Whether he was discussing investing in youth or encouraging political engagement, the District 98 Democrat – who represents Raleigh, Douglas, North Memphis, Bartlett, Nutbush and Midtown – emphasized communities working together to make an impact as he addressed the Frayser Exchange Club (June 23).

“Where we’re disconnecting with our younger generation is we’re just not listening,” Parkinson said. “In listening, you’d be surprised how much information you can get about what they’re dealing with. They’re not dealing with the same things we dealt with as young people.”

Parkinson urged not waiting until it’s too late to invest in youth.

“We have to pour into these children before they become shooters, before they grow up and hold the cell phones up, jump up and down and encourage somebody getting their brains beat out at Kroger or somewhere else. …If we don’t get to them before that, we’re losing them.”

Some have become desensitized to violence, said Parkinson, referencing comments on social media (“Free Kwasi” “It wasn’t on purpose” “R.I.P., baby girl”) following the death of Myneisha Johnson. The Booker T. Washington High School senior was killed in May after Kwasi Corbin opened fired Downtown.

“Their sympathy was to the person who shot and killed this girl, and then on another note (to her),” Parkinson said. “That’s not normal.”

About year and a half ago, Parkinson wrote Gov. Bill Haslam asking him to consider juvenile crime as a health issue.

“If anybody here can tell me that it’s normal for a 16 year old to hold a video phone and record the beating at Kroger or BP, and cheer it on, then I’ll sit down; but that’s not normal.”

Parkinson grew up in Los Angeles, where he once was in danger of heading down a path that suggested violence and other unhealthy behavior.

“I watched gang members in shootouts, I watched them fight the police. I watched LAPD in shootouts with people on the streets. I saw domestic violence and I was homeless twice,” Parkinson said.

His “saving grace” was enlisting in the Marine Corps at 17.

Today, he said, it’s critically important for people to step up with concern for their communities.

“We know whose fighting every night, which woman or man is dealing with domestic violence and which mama is never home and the kids are in there by themselves, raising themselves. As a society, we’re scared to intervene, we’re scared to talk to these kids, we’re scared to talk to the parents and we’re scared to offer resources.”

It’s time for a return to looking out for each other’s well being; time to get back community figures such as “big mommas” who kept youth on the right path, he said.

“We have to get back to acting like that community. …We have to get back to policing our own, to supporting our own and to supporting these businesses.”

An Exchange Club meeting attendee asked Parkinson, who’s running for reelection, what’s being done to encourage more people to vote.

“In regards to voters, we wait until election time starts to start registering voters—that’s a bad habit. …We should be registering people every day, all year long. …We should allow businesses to register voters. When you can influence an election, that’s a game-changer. A group of people speaking together makes more noise than a single individual.”