Mayor A C Wharton Jr. was part of a select group of mayors invited to join President Barack Obama at the White House this week to discuss curbing youth violence.
Wharton's visit coincided with the 50th Anniversary of the historic 1963 March on Washington, where civil rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech.
Speaking about gun violence, Wharton said, "It's really perplexing because Dr. King did not die for that; that was not the dream he had."
Wharton added that there's much work to be done, "particularly when it comes to our youth, who are needlessly having their futures destroyed before they have a chance to realize the American dream that Dr. King spoke of so eloquently."
Wharton has said his top priority is to end the cycle of violence and create safe and vibrant neighborhoods throughout Memphis.
President Obama, he said, encouraged him to speak frankly and from the heart about his concerns surrounding youth violence during the hour-long Tuesday (Aug. 27) meeting, over which the president personally presided.
"He was just really engaged – not from reading some position paper, but you could just see him speaking as a parent, as someone who lived in a large city, speaking of the troubles he's had in life," Wharton said. "It was one of the most rewarding meetings I've ever attended."
Wharton added that he and Obama were on the same page regarding the importance of early childhood education in breaking the cycle of poverty and youth violence.
"It was so rewarding to see him place so much of an emphasis on pre-K, particularly in light of what we have going on in Memphis," Wharton said.
Following his meeting with the president, Wharton participated in a larger group meeting with the president, Atty. Gen. Eric Holder, and a group of mayors and police representatives, including Memphis Police Department director Toney Armstrong.
Wharton said he and Holden discussed what Memphis is doing to curb youth violence.
One of the city's major initiatives to reduce gun violence is Memphis Gun Down, an evidence-based plan built around five core prongs: suppression, community mobilization, youth opportunities, intervention, and organizational change and development.
Among the initiatives that drew interest from Holden was Safeways – a program supported in part by Memphis Gun Down – that works to improve safety and the quality of life for Memphians who reside in apartment communities.
"Data shows that a disproportionate amount of the crime in our city comes from the multi-family units/apartment complexes ... we have the numbers," said Wharton, adding that Holden plans to further study the Safeways program.
On Wednesday (Aug. 28), people from around the country marched through the streets of Washington as part of the "March for Jobs and Justice," led by veterans of the 1963 March.
Although he was invited to participate, Wharton instead returned to Memphis to participate in a hometown ceremony at City Hall to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.