Rally brings attention to anti-violence

Apr. 27, 2014 @ 05:02 AM

Anthony Cox raised a son and a daughter here in Sanford and sometimes felt as though he wasn’t getting through to his boy. But now his son has a child of his own and is always with the youngster, and Cox knows he did right.

Cox is one of the Nation of Big Brothers, a group which has been behind recent anti-violence rallies in Sanford, including one Saturday at Horton Park that hundreds of people attended. He has also coached football, baseball and basketball for more than 30 years, and through that he has tried to be a role model for more young men than just his own son. Many of them, he said, don’t have involved fathers of their own.

“I’m always around kids, just trying to be a positive figure,” Cox said during Saturday’s community rally at the park on Washington Avenue. “It’s hard sometimes. You get kids who don’t say nothing but no, and just glare. But you just got to be patient.”

But he doesn’t want to be too patient, he said, which is why he likes that Nation of Big Brothers and other groups are organizing these kinds of events to get others more actively involved. The final straw was the shooting death of 15-year-old Thomas Dolby Jr. last month near the park, on Pineland Street.

City Councilman Chas Post, a Sanford criminal defense attorney, said he was encouraged to see such a large crowd out on a Saturday, standing together with each other and against crime and violence.

“It takes a community to tell young people they do have choices ... and you’re starting that just by being here,” he said in a speech.

William Johnson, teen director at the Sanford Area Boys and Girls Club and a member of the Nation of Big Brothers, switched back into his old role of Army sergeant, yelling into his microphone about the importance of supporting people — and especially those who are the most in need of it.

“If you came out today and can’t say you’re your brother’s keeper, you’re at the wrong event,” he said.

Not everyone in the Nation of Big Brothers has such long histories of community involvement as Johnson and Cox, however.

Rev. Byron Buckles, the group’s co-founder, said streets and parks are his church because he takes the Bible’s advice to preach in “the highways and hedges.” But to reach people on the streets, he said, sometimes it takes someone who knows the streets.

Maurice Johnson knows the streets. He grew up in Sanford and, by his own admission, made some bad decisions before spending 10 years in a federal penitentiary. Now he owns his own auto business and in his off time, he tries to prevent young people from acting like he used to.

“Since I tore the streets up, it’s my job — I’m obligated — to bring Sanford back together,” he said, adding that sometimes it can be as simple as driving up to a group just standing around and offering to take them to get some food.

“These men are hungry, both physically and mentally,” he said.

Cox agreed that sometimes, people turn to crime and violence out of necessity.

“I’ve met 14-year-olds who are the head of their house,” he said. “They don’t have anyone to give them things. So they go take and get it themselves.”

To help people find legal ways of supporting themselves and their families, Saturday’s rally had answers. Central Carolina Community College — which Maurice Johnson credited for helping him turn legitimate — had a booth, and the state-run JobLink Career Center also had representatives on hand.