COLUMBIA — The Missouri Highsteppers received "robust support" Wednesday from the Mayor's Task Force on Community Violence.
Michael Trapp, task force co-chair and Second Ward councilman, led the push to make supporting the Highsteppers the task force's third formal recommendation since its formation in August of 2013. He brought up the issue, which wasn't on the agenda, at the end of the meeting.
The Highsteppers are a drill team whose members participate in choreographed movements timed to drum beats. The group, led by Rolando Barry, provides its members with "growth and development through enrichment activities centered around character building, leadership, health and life skills, education, career, sports, recreation, fitness and the arts," according to its website.
Task force members said the group previously practiced outside Hickman High School but had to move elsewhere when neighbors complained about the noise. It has been in limbo and without a permanent home ever since.
The recommendation is the first time the task force has supported a specific group or organization.
There was some dissension from task force members about the recommendation. Task force member Cindy Garrett said she was concerned that by backing individual programs or causes, it would open the door for every group or organization in Columbia to come to the task force for support.
Task force members Tyree Byndom and Steve Calloway said the group needed to look at things on a holistic, big-picture level instead of focusing on individual programs. Byndom said that incremental programs would never have his support and that the task force needs to support communities and the environment they create instead.
Task force member Pam Hardin disagreed, saying the task force needs to begin taking action now.
"If we take that approach, nothing is going to get done," Hardin said. "We need to start somewhere, to put something into place for our young people so we can move forward."
Task force member Christopher Haynes supported the recommendation and spoke about how the Highsteppers made a positive impact in his life. He said that the group was one of the only reasons he didn't turn to crime sooner in his life because of the order and rigorous discipline required to be in the club. He also said Columbia residents were supportive of the organization.
"This group did things everywhere, and the positive view of the club wasn't a black view or a minority view; it was the view of everyone in this city," Haynes said.
When the meeting was supposed to end, Trapp asked if the recommendation had unanimous support and upon hearing no objections adjourned the meeting.
Previously, the task force recommended that the city and Columbia businesses stop asking if applicants have been convicted of a felony on a job application, a concept known as "ban the box." The task force's first recommendation was a funding priority statement in relation to the city's consolidated plan.
Task force members provided an update on community public forums about violence in Columbia, called "Let's Talk CoMo." The task force will sponsor three forums, one geared toward parents, one toward students and one toward the community as a whole.
Previously, the task force had said it would like to use Hickman High School as a location, but task force member David Thomas said the school district didn't want to be involved with the programs. The public forums are tentatively scheduled during the first two weeks in September.
Task force members also discussed feedback they'd seen from their "ban the box" recommendation. Task force member Dan Hanneken said most of the feedback he's seen online has been negative and the task force will need to speak to the community about the proposal.
"That's going to be a time where we may need to go to city hall and counter that negativity from people who I think for the most part are just misinformed," Hanneken said.
Trapp said that he has gotten "almost universal support" for the proposal from his constituents.
At its next meeting, scheduled for June 25, the task force will hear from representatives of the Columbia Chamber of Commerce, who will provide feedback about the "ban the box" proposal.
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