KINSTON, N.C. (WNCT) — It’s said children are the future. In Lenior County, the future is here and the area’s youth are already hard at work in their community.
With close to two dozen youth, Kinston Teens looks to address current issues with today’s young leaders in hopes of a better tomorrow.
“We are a community of potential. We are putting that potential to reality,” said Chris Suggs, who founded the organization.
For Suggs, the new reality started when he created Kinston Teens at the age of 14, guiding it through tough times from violence to natural disasters.
“And young people were taking the brunt of those problems,” Suggs said. “Very seldom were we included into making a difference on those issues.”
Kinston is about 70% Black. Suggs wanted its young people to play a greater role in changing their community.
“Kinston Teens has been in existence for six years, and I believe tremendous impact in our community in terms of more young people getting involved in going to our city council meetings, going to our school board meetings,” Suggs said.
Their voices could also help people avoid wrong turns in life.
“…Less young people involved in juvenile crime, our community and young people really knowing we have a voice, a say” Suggs said. “We have ownership of our community and that’s the impact Kinston Teens has had.”
Kinston Teens is on the front line of today’s issues like peacefully protesting social injustices, getting people registered to vote and supporting the community through the pandemic.
“We immediately started organizing food distributions, helping young people get access to wireless internet,” Suggs said.
Suggs’ vision is spreading to Chowan County, where member Chasity Pate is from. She helps Kinston Teens with its marketing.
“They also knew that if Kinston Teens didn’t have the resources, they knew who to reach out to,” Pate said. “That meant a lot to me in order to bring that same type of feeling back.”
In 2017, Suggs paid $850 for a house then renovated the property for $60,000. In July of 2020, the Kinston Teens hub was complete.
“It just reminds me of Kinston Teens. Chris started this with nothing,” said Kiana Suggs.
Suggs is proud of the group’s impact but it still faces challenges. The biggest? Adults who don’t value young voices. Suggs believes with Kinston Teens, the future will be better.
“Change is going to happen, whether we are a part of it or not, so if you really want to see change happen in a certain way, you need to be on the front lines making it happen,” Chris Suggs said.
Suggs and the organization own more than a dozen properties all throughout the Kinston area. He hopes to turn those properties into basketball courts, community gardens and even affordable housing one day.