City leaders look toward 2017 with hope for change

City leaders look toward 2017 with hope for change
Published: Dec. 31, 2016 at 9:58 PM CST|Updated: Jan. 1, 2017 at 7:16 AM CST
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MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - As Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland wraps up his first year in the mayor's office, 2016 will be remembered for a sobering milestone--the highest number of homicides on record in Memphis in one year, 226, as of Saturday afternoon.

At Strickland's New Year's Eve Prayer Breakfast at the Guest House at Graceland, nobody minced words about the violence plaguing Memphis.

"We pray right now, God, that you won't let those who are evil in this city find any rest until they find their rest in you," said Pastor Dianne Young, with The Healing Center Baptist Church.

Strickland put forth a formal call to action, saying in 2017 all Memphians need to adopt a block to eliminate blight, help children to read, and mentor more.

"City government alone cannot solve all the challenges we face," said Strickland. "We are doing more for our young people than was done last year."

Strickland asked former Memphis Mayor Dr. Willie Herenton to speak at the breakfast, where Herenton talked candidly about the societal struggles he says Memphis faces. The former mayor echoed comments he made in an interview earlier this month.

"We must carve a new path of life for the black male youth," said Herenton. "This wave of crime is a black problem. I'm going to reiterate that. It is a black problem."

True to form, the five-term former Memphis mayor did not hold back, saying the black community must step up and address its own issues.

"Racism is in America. It's in Memphis, but at the same time, you got to move forward," said Herenton. "You can't stay in the past and say it's the white man holding me back. No."

Herenton said his non-profit New Path is looking for 10,000 black men to volunteer and mentor other youth. He expects to announce more details in the coming weeks.

"We are focusing on African American youth, especially those in impoverished areas," said Herenton, "If we don't have an effective outreach to get those kids, you're not going to see a decrease in the crime rate."

Herenton also called on the business community to work and make thousands of jobs available for Memphis teens in the summer of 2017 to show them the value of working. The former mayor said targeting the city's youth can help change a culture of hopelessness in Memphis.

Strickland said he supports the former mayor's initiatives.

"We must address generational poverty," Herenton said.

Copyright 2016 WMC Action News 5. All rights reserved.