Sharon could have been forgiven if she had withdrawn into a cocoon, or lashed out in anger, after her 19-year-old son Malcolm – a scholarship football player home from his freshman year of college – was caught in the crossfire of a gang fight in their New Jersey neighborhood. Instead, she turned her grief into a cause and put all of her energies into making it happen: a safe neighborhood where young people can thrive.
On Memorial Day weekend, 2012, Sharon Bagley’s 19-year-old son Malcolm – a scholarship football player home from his freshman year of college – was caught in the crossfire of a gang fight in the East Ward of Orange, NJ. In an instant, his promising life was snuffed out before it had a chance to really take off.
Sharon could have been forgiven if she had withdrawn into a cocoon, or lashed out in anger – two common reactions to such a deep loss. Instead, she turned her grief into a cause and put all of her energies into making it happen: a safe neighborhood where young people can thrive.
NOT ORANGE, a nonprofit dedicated to combatting violence and encouraging youth to strive for personal excellence, is Sharon’s brainchild. However, today it has attracted many partners, ranging from the local police department, to the board of education, to NeighborWorks member HANDS (Housing and Neighborhood Development Services)
“Orange is really small. Most of us know each other,” says Sharon. “Because my son was known by so many, support came from everyone and it lifted my spirits so much. So I tapped into all of that to turn it into something that would make a difference.”
NOT ORANGE works on three fronts: with the police to increase community patrols; with HANDS and the city to rid the neighborhood of vacant, deteriorating buildings that serve as magnets for gangs; and with volunteers to organize activities for youth such as family-friendly cookouts; community-service projects, including school-supply drives; and a peer-to-peer mentoring program focusing on young males.
“I’m an ‘old’ person,” Sharon laughs. “We get parents involved, but it’s the kids who plan the activities and do a lot of the outreach. We’ve found face-to-face works the best. As a result, youth really look forward to our activities. And it’s paying off. Drug traffic is down and we haven’t had a murder in more than two years. We’ve re-claimed our streets and our neighborhood.”
2014 Dorothy Richardson Award Winners
: Never too Young to be a Leader
: From Bystander to ‘Upstander’
: Heart of the Community
: Teaching by Example
: Responding to the ‘Call’
: A One-Person Green ‘Multiplier’
: Be the Leader You Need