David Moore is well known in Winston-Salem for his Southside Rides, which puts newly released offenders, like he once was, to work in its car body shop. Now, he’s expanding his scope, trying to reach at-risk youth before they make the costly mistakes he and so many others made. In this holiday season, here is the story of a man who gives back year-round. We could use a lot more visionaries like him.
“It’s all about trying to build a better community, and letting these young folks know that’s a cool thing,” More, a towering man of 60, said.
He has renewed focus on an initiative of his foundation, Project M.O.O.R. E., the second word standing for Mentoring Our Own and Rejuvenating the Environment. Next month, with the start of the new year, Moore plans to transform an old frame house just off Martin Luther King Drive into a spot where youth can gather, learn and dream, charting plans for careers with on-site training in barbering, cosmetology and music. Moore, who has a track record for getting things done, understands the people he is trying to reach. A natural leader who is charismatically plainspoken and streetwise, he has been there.
Winston-Salem State University’s Center for the Study of Economic Mobility (CSEM) has named Moore one of its Community Scholars and given Project M.O.O.R.E. an Economic Mobility Opportunity Award. Alvin Atkinson, CSEM’s Associate Director, said, “Everybody in East Winston knows David and his compassionate record for reaching people at whatever stage they are and helping them reach their full potential.”
Moore and his initiative are in sync with key themes of CSEM’s work: tapping into the abundance of talent and hope in Eat Winston and helping residents break down barriers that have too long thwarted upward economic mobility. Toward that end, CSEM’s work has included supporting efforts to help parolees re-enter the workplace, most recently with research by CSEM Fellow Douglas Bates. Moore’s Southside Rides, which includes a thriving body shop here and in Charlotte, has long emphasized such re-entry efforts.
His new initiative, Project M.O.O.R.E., aims to reach youth before they commit serious crimes. He identifies with them, including the peer pressure and home tensions they face, some with parents missing in action. Moore spent his first years in Bermuda with his mother, never meeting his father until he moved to Winston to live with family when he was 12.
After graduating from North Forsyth High School, he went to work at Hanes Dye and Finishing. He learned auto bodywork at Forsyth Technical Community College and opened his own shop.
On the side, he began selling marijuana, moving it in increasingly larger quantities, having it driven in from Mexico by car. “Then we got so cocky we were having it mailed in,” he said. In 1999, he had a package mailed to the home of a favorite niece, Cassandra Jones. She had sickle cell anemia and Moore helped support her. He was going to pick up the package at her house.
She was not involved in the drug business and didn’t know what was in the package, Moore said. He got busted and she was detained. Detectives threatened to go hard on her, Moore said. To save her, he confessed to trafficking in drugs. Cassandra, who was never charged, told Moore, “God’s got you now.” She died while he was in the Winston-Salem jail waiting for his case to be adjudicated.
Moore, shaken to his core, re-embraced the Christianity of his youth as he went to state prison for two years. He mentored other inmates. Soon after he got out, he set up Southside Rides Foundation, a nonprofit. “I went through challenges, doors slammed in my face, and all I wanted to do was help,” he said “Ex-offenders aren’t built where you can get a $50,000 loan and start your own business.” His wife, Linda, stood by him, just as she did when he was in prison. He secured grants from the city of Winston-Salem, gradually making Southside a success. Thirty-seven of the men who have been in the program have opened their own body or car shops, Moore said.
To encourage more such entrepreneurship, Moore recently gave four graduates of his program stipends of $1,000 each.
As he revamps Project M.O.O.R.E, he brings to bear all the lessons he’s learned through Southside Rides. The project will serve 15 youth, 14 -to 19 years old. Each session of the program will last six months. Laptops will be on site, and the participants will be required to do schoolwork, in addition to their job training. The barbering and cosmetology will be interesting to students, Moore said, and the music side will be especially so. Participants can make their own videos for YouTube and other venues. “What kid wouldn’t want to learn the music part of it?” Moore asked.
As an added incentive, qualified students will be able to use donated dirt bikes for limited times, and, if they graduate from high school, get to keep them.
He will insist on parental involvement. “That helps me to help the kids,” he said.
Two of Moore’s friends, Sonia Young and Dennis Davis, will be the on-site managers.
The three of them will try to teach the program participants to believe in themselves. “I learned to do it. They can too,” Moore said. “And my niece Cassandra, she’s always looking down on me from above.”