YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) — If Darrell Jones was wondering what the reaction to the anti-violence billboards his group Youngstown United As One would receive, he got a hint shortly after the first one went up Friday morning.
The first billboard went up at Belmont and West Rayen avenues.
As Jones, the group’s president, and two other members were gathered underneath it, a worker came out of a business across the street, looked over, and applauded.
The response was gratifying for 57-year-old Jones, a North Side native who grew up in Smoky Hollow and graduated from The Rayen School.
The group has held fundraisers and food drives in the past to benefit the homeless, but this year Jones said they will also be bringing an anti-violence message to that work.
“It’s getting out of hand,” said Jones, who is a security guard. “Every year it seems like it’s getting worse.”
Last year, Youngstown saw 98 people, including 27 of 28 homicide victims, shot, an increase from 58 people shot in 2019, including all 20 of the city’s homicide victims.
Already, the group held a Stop The Violence event at the Boys and Girls Club on Oak Hill Avenue, where relatives of people killed by violence told their stories in hopes of discouraging others from participating in violent acts.
The billboards are a visual component to that, Jones said. Another billboard is set to go up Monday on lower Market Street.
People see them because they are on major roads that they travel every day, Jones said. He said he hopes the repetition of seeing them every day will help the message sink in that violence solves no problems.
“It’s the ultimate way to get the message out,” Jones said.
Jones said he started the group a few years ago to bring people together. He said the only time he would ever see old friends was if they were at a funeral, so he decided to do something to get people together and help others out.
“The only time people got together was for sad occasions,” Jones said.
Two other members of the group are Rayen alumni also. Secretary Tineka Patterson says she volunteered for a year to see if the group’s mission fit hers. It does. She is now studying social work at Eastern Gateway Community College because she saw the need as she volunteered for Youngstown United.
“I saw what a need Youngstown has for helping the homeless and the community,” Patterson said.
Treasurer Laura Greene is a classmate of Jones and got involved because she knows him, she said.
The billboards cost $650 and were paid for through fundraisers and also by group members pitching in. They will be up for 28 days, Jones said.