The University of Delaware's Race, Justice, Policy Research Initiative
(RJP), which was created to identify and address issues of race and
justice that affect Delaware communities, met directly with residents
and leaders of some of those communities at an Oct. 18 forum.
The public event drew participants from UD, government, nonprofit
organizations and the Wilmington community to share concerns about such
issues as violence and poverty and to lay the groundwork for future
Among the panelists were New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer and Wilmington Mayor Michael Purzycki.
During the past year, the UD researchers who established RJP have met
with numerous state and local policy makers to gather and share
information and perspectives. Members of the initiative aim to develop a
research agenda they can use to assist the government agencies and
community organizations that have been working for years to address
issues of race, justice and inequality.
The forum, held at the Delaware History Museum in Wilmington,
consisted of two panel discussions followed by questions and comments
from the audience of about 200 community members.
The panels focused on the high levels of violence, and particularly
gun violence, afflicting Wilmington and on possible policy solutions
that could be found through collaboration. The forum concluded with a
keynote speech that traced the history and impact of mass incarceration.
In exploring the issue of violence in Wilmington, panelists discussed
underlying causes that led to the situation today and difficulties in
developing and funding programs to address the problem.
Yasser Payne, associate professor of sociology and of Africana
studies at UD, said the basis of the problem is structural, with a lack
of opportunity for too many individuals and communities. He called on
the audience to work more aggressively for programs that create
opportunity and to take risks in advocating for such efforts.
Darryl Chambers, a researcher with UD’s Center for Drug and Health
Studies, said that as a Wilmington resident and a long-time activist, he
has seen a cycle of efforts to combat problems of violence, poverty and
He said programs often are implemented and begin to show successful
outcomes, but then political changes occur and new leaders stop funding
the programs. Later, he said, similar programs might again be launched,
“but we’re reinventing the wheel” and losing ground with each
interruption and delay.
“There’s a lack of resources, but there’s also a lack of political
will,” Chambers said. “This isn’t just a police problem. This is all of