Events in both cities will take place Saturday, Aug. 2 through Wednesday, Aug. 5.
“This event is to redirect the youth’s vision and perception of what they can be, can achieve and overcome in the midst of the rising gang violence and drug epidemic in our communities,” said Community of One organizer Solomon Williams.
The Gospel Explosion will kick off the Cleveland events Saturday at noon. The event normally takes place the first Saturday of June. GE organizer RaSharon King said the two distinct initiatives teamed up when construction on the pool project at Mosby Park delayed the musical event.
A school supply drive will continue until Saturday. King said accepted items will include normal school supplies like rulers, glue, pencils, pen and paper. R&B Barbershop and Omega Salon on Inman Street are both acting as school supply drop-off points. Items may also be donated the day of the event.
The items will be passed out starting at 12:30 p.m. Saturday.
“What we do is we will take a list of what the schools are requesting the students bring in and we will try to bag up [grade-specific] items,” King said. “So when students come through the line and say their grade, then they will get as much of what we have that meets the requirements for the grade.”
She said items would be passed out on a first-come-first-served basis.
Additional activities at Gospel Explosion will include the annual basketball tournament, singing, dancing, face painting, inflatables and access to the park. Free hot dogs and chips will be available. Additional food vendors selling barbeque, chicken and fish will also be on hand.
King said the family event is a positive experience for the youth who attend.
“They are surrounded by negativity all of the time,” she said. “So [they need] those positive influences that say, ‘Hey, we care. We care that you have the necessary resources, tools, equipment so you do start the year off right. We have all of these organizations doing things individually. So a few of us thought if we pull everyone together and do one big event, this might be a way to reach the community with more impact.”
Williams said free haircuts would be given from Saturday through Monday at Omega Salon and R&B Barbershop. Both places will sponsor a collective 100 kids to receive haircuts. Anyone who wishes to sponsor a child can do so by speaking with Tiffany Wood at Omega or Rodney Williams at R&B.
Williams spoke with several Chattanooga-based businessmen and women about expanding the free haircuts and uplifting youth messages. Several responded positively to the call, especially Dr. Thomas Rumph. The dentist and businessman personally understands the plight of many lower socioeconomic children in Chattanooga.
“A lot of these kids are looking for a vision. A lot of these kids have never seen a successful black man their entire life,” Rumph said. “They don’t have an idea of what a success is. That is why I talked with Solomon about changing the vision of our youth.”
Free haircuts will be sponsored and provided to 150 Chattanooga kids through Eastdale Family Dentistry and staff, Genesis Hair Gallery, VIP, Jagged Edge Hair Salon, Cutting Edge and Miller-Motte Technical College Cosmetology program. There will also be a Youth Empowerment Rally tonight from 6 to 8 at the Orchard Knob Missionary Baptist Church.
Rumph said it is important to reach out to the youth.
“We have to give youth a choice. Gangs give them a choice by saying, ‘If you sell drugs, you can get a car. You can have money in your pockets,’” he said. “I want to show them by making the right decisions you can own shopping centers. You can own a barbershop. You can own a dental practice.”
Williams said he would like to see the Back 2 School Initiative expand beyond Cleveland and Chattanooga to Knoxville and Nashville in the upcoming years.
“It is not just a specific demographic,” he said. “It is not just the churches. It is community leaders. It is business leaders that are jumping on board and seeing the need we have. This is our responsibility, I believe.”
For more information on the Back 2 School Initiative, contact Williams at firstname.lastname@example.org. Those interested in helping out with the Gospel Explosion may do so by calling RaSharon King at 987-3356.