Fed up with gun violence, event encourages community change
on October 6, 2015
All too often, gunfire and police sirens have formed the soundtrack at Richmond’s John F. Kennedy Park. It sounded different Saturday afternoon. When hip-hop blared through loudspeakers, and friends and family of veteran community organizer Elana Bolds celebrated “Put Down the Guns.”
Bolds and community allies have organized the annual event for the last eight years. After singing at too many funerals and witnessing the suffering gun violence caused, Bolds said she decided to do something.
“I was tired of how common it was for us to bury our babies,” Bolds said.
Since the start of the year, Richmond has had 16 homicides compared to 11 for all of 2014, according to Richmond Police. A high school football game in Richmond was halted last month when three young people were shot outside school grounds, no one was killed. In the early part of 2014, John F. Kennedy park was the backdrop of a fight that escalated to gun violence ending with a 15-year-old student being shot in the leg. The general trend of improvement in violent crime for the past year is less of a sure trajectory this year.
Nationwide, there have been 555 gun-related deaths this year involving children under the age of 12, and 1,983 deaths of youths between the ages of 12 and 17, according to Gun Violence Archive.
Every year, three months before her anti-violence event, Bolds begins reaching out to community organizations and canvasing the neighborhoods and schools to generate participation.
Bolds with EAH housing, Crescent Park, and Richmond Police and Crime prevention programs drew about 300 people to this year’s October 3 event.
The program began with a prayer, led by the Rev. Phil Grey from First Congregational Church in Oakland, then dance performances by dance groups, ASCEND and Element Stars.
Marquita Ealy, a mother and Richmond native, has helped with the event for the last three years. Ealy lamented how dangerous the city had become, so much so that many people are afraid to, “let the children play in the front of the house.”
She said that’s why “Put Down the Guns” matters because it’s important to show, “our community that change is possible.”
“You don’t have to leave the city to change,” Ealy said. “You can stay right here and change.”
Richmond Police Officer Glen Edwards, who was on duty at the park, said he knew a few of those in the crowd had a record of arrests. Still, he said, the event could help to ease tensions and, “show kids other alternatives.”
He watched as children lined up for free hot dogs or a turn bouncing in the inflatable houses.
“Events like these do boost morale and it is awesome that someone cared enough to do something and break molds,” Edwards said.
Police reported no trouble.
As the music continued to play in the background attendees began taking down tents, signaling the end of the celebration. Children kept the atmosphere lively, jumping on a stage and showing off their dance moves. Attendees said the hope is with more events like these the sound of gun-fire will fade away from Richmond streets.
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