by Maria Sestito
The (Jacksonville) Daily News
Published: Monday, August 17, 2015 at 12:30 a.m.
S.O.U.L. (Support, Opportunity, Unity, Leadership) Society kicked off its first few weeks as a nonprofit by holding a peace festival. The My Brother’s Keeper Peace Festival, held July 25, was an effort by organizers to begin a dialogue about violence, provide a positive environment for the community and spread the message about their mission.
At the event, one of S.O.U.L Society’s founders Bradford Simmons thanked the crowd for support, thanked God and thanked the two men who literally saved his life. On Oct. 26, 2013, Simmons was shot in the back and left for dead. Although people were nearby, none of them helped, he said. Finally a neighbor, whom Simmons did not know at the time, Marine Sgt. Brandon Jolly, heard the gunshot and he and his friend Sgt. Eric Degenfelder ran next door. Jolly’s wife was the first to call 911.
“We were in a small, quiet neighborhood and the last thing you would expect to hear was a gunshot,” Simmons said. The bullet was only centimeters away from his heart, he said, and he attributes the Marine sergeants’ arrival to his survival. “With the help of both of them, I’m here today,” Simmons said. Another act of violence helped inspire the organization, but it was one with a more tragic ending. Covair Frost, 25, of Maysville, was fatally shot in New Bern in April. Simmons grew up with Frost and said his tragic death “done work” on him. Frost was a father and former football star at Jones Senior High School.
“He was such a positive person,” Simmons said, “He was trying to do constructive things for his family.”
Simmons has always wanted to start a mentoring program, but the time had never been right. Now, ready or not, he said he knew something needed to be done for the community. Elridge Paige Jr., Simmons’ uncle, helped organized a vigil for Frost in Maysville just days after his death. Paige said that more than 600 people showed up to the vigil, many of them angry. “Crime happens too much in all communities but, in particular, the black communities,” he said. Paige, along with his nephews, knew more needed to be done to prevent these crimes. At the vigil, and whenever approached, Paige instructed young men in the community to resist acting on their anger.
Retaliation is not the way, but many young black men think that’s what they’re supposed to do, he said. Paige told the men, many of whom he used to coach, not to act on their thoughts of revenge — and they listened. “These young men need somebody to tell them it’s OK,” he added. He hopes that his reputation, along with Simmons’ who was a star athlete at Northside High School in Jacksonville, can make a difference to children, teens and young adults who respect them.
One of the things they plan to do this year is go to schools and daycare centers to read to children.
“We’ll read to everybody … but a lot of young men have never had another older black man read to them,” Paige said. If children don’t see it with their eyes, then they won’t think it is something black men do, he explained.
Twenty-five percent of the proceeds from My Brother’s Keeper Peace Festival went to The Kailey Frost College Fund, which was set up to help Frost’s daughter, Kailey, attend college. The organization has other events and activities planned, but does not have a permanent home. Until then, S.O.U.L. Society will be mobile. For more information about S.O.U.L. Society and its mission, visit gofundme.com/soulsociety.