Kinston teen brings youth from the streets to service projects

Nonprofit makes youth voices heard

Kinston Teens
Kinston born and raised Chris Suggs founded Kinston Teens. (Photo courtesy of Kinston Teens.)

KINSTON —  At 13 years old, Chris Suggs saw homeless people in his community were without winter clothing, so he started a Hats for the Homeless drive.

At 14 years old, Suggs noticed young adults were plagued with gun violence. He began a nonprofit organization, Kinston Teens, to keep youth off the streets and into service projects.

Now, at 16 years old, he became the youngest appointee to the North Carolina Governor’s Crime Commission and joined former First Lady Michelle Obama’s Youth Advisory Board for her Better Make Room campaign.

In 2021, he’s already declared that’s the year he will be running for mayor of Kinston.

“And eventually, I’ll be president,” said Suggs with a smile.

Walk the streets of downtown Kinston with him and it’s obvious his community thinks so, too. They stop their cars, roll down the windows and yell, “Hey, Mr. President!”

“2014 was a challenging year for our community. There was a lot of negativity, shootings, and problems in our school systems — all issues that affect young people,” said Suggs.

That year there were 61 shootings reported with the average age of victims and offenders being 21. Suggs saw this as an opportunity to make an impact in Kinston.

“By establishing Kinston Teens we’re providing meaningful opportunities for youth to be involved,” he said. “Our mission is to amplify the voices of youth, create civic engagement, and create community service hours.”

By of the end of 2016, Kinston Teens had accumulated 10,000 hours of volunteerism through a variety of youth-led programs including Adopt-a-Street, Adopt-a-Vacant Lot, and the Youth Leadership Council. Members range in age from 12 to 22 and hold a passion to improve their town. They frequently visit assisted living centers and read to the residents.

“Prior to 2014, I wanted to go off to college and not return to Kinston. Now, I want to return home as do many others involved in Kinston Teens. We’ve changed our mentality and want to invest in our hometown,” said Suggs.

His parents, Kristal and Reco, helped financially support Kinston Teens until it became an official 501(c)(3) organization in 2015. Suggs will complete high school in three years instead of four and will graduate this spring with plans to study political science in college. Following graduation, it’s time to return to Kinston and become mayor, —a role he’s already preparing for with an agenda he’s already creating.

“As mayor, I want to continue to expand our efforts of youth engagement. If we can keep youth active and offer employment opportunities, we can reduce the violence in our community. I plan to further our downtown revitalization efforts and the expansion of our arts district,” said Suggs.

“They say the best work doesn’t feel like work. This is the best — serving and helping others, being a voice and representative for my peers — this is fulfilling,” he added.

Suggs works hard to serve his peers and is quick to set and accomplish goals. By the age of 50, he’s likely to be president.