Anti-Violence Rally Raises Awareness
Greg Williams and his football team recently gathered at a nearby park on Martin Luther King Avenue, but this time, it had nothing to do with tackling drills and calisthenics, whistles or stopwatches. The afternoon team meeting, trumped sports, and took on added significance for the players who lost a valued member of their football family to violence.
Nearly two years ago, 30-year-old James Hawkins was fatally shot just a few blocks away from where the 14 players stood. Hawkins, deemed an innocent bystander after an investigation, not only shared coaching duties with Williams, but was well-liked and respected by his players.
"They remember him well," said Williams, 32, who lives in Southeast. "I'm hoping that this will give the kids a good outlook on life. I just want to keep them off of the streets and let them know that there's a better way than just hanging in the neighborhood."
Williams and his Tarheel Pop Warner team joined nearly 60 other supporters and local residents who participated in an anti-violence march sponsored by Ward 8 School Board member Trayon White, Sr., on Saturday, July 28. Demonstrators joined in the Peacemakers Not Peace-Breakers March, and walked from the park to the Woodland Terrace Community Center in Southeast.
Prior to the start of the march, White, a long-standing community activist, greeted the crowd and thanked them for their support.
"We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools," he said, using the powerful words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
March organizers used the event as a call to action and they, along with residents and supporters, demanded an end to the violence that plagues the Ward 8 community.
Don and Deborah Coleman brought their daughter and grandson to the march. Don Coleman said he's lived in the District his entire life and has seen how unemployment and the lack of job training has destroyed and prevented many Ward 8 youngsters from reaching their full potential.
"I'm here because I think that it's an important thing that we teach our youth how to go to work and about jobs instead of committing crimes. It gives them something to do," said Coleman, 48.
"If you put a youth to work, and teach him how to earn his own way and living, it's unlikely that he will be out there trying to rob or steal something from someone, he will be more productive to the community," the Southeast resident said.
Several of the participants recounted their personal stories which elicited an emotional response from the crowd. White and other organizers vowed to continue to fight until the "unnecessary and senseless" violence ends.
"What brought me down here is the continuous violence that has plagued our community for years," said White, 28. "As a young man, I lost a lot of friends, relatives and associates to street violence. I was considered fortunate enough to make it out of the neighborhood, so I want to make sure that other young ladies and men have the same opportunity that I had. I'm not special, it's by God's grace that I've made it this far."
A police escort led the group from the park onto Alabama Avenue. The marchers caught the attention of motorists who honked their horns in a show of support as the group trekked along the street. Curious residents opened their doors, peeked through windows and walked out onto their porches to get a glimpse of the rally.
Former four-term District mayor and current Ward 8 Council member Marion Barry joined the demonstration as it passed the Congress Heights Metro Station.
White said that Ward 8 has the highest per capita unemployment rate in the country; a factor he believes is tied to the violence wracking the community.
"I believe [there's] a direct correlation between poverty and crime. So it's an economic and, educational problem," White said. "Therefore, what I try to do is build bridges between people who have several different gifts to give back to the community."
For the Colemans, the march proved to be the perfect opportunity to show their 12-year-old daughter that she and others in her generation must become involved, if the status quo is to change.
"I want her out here with me [to] get her started," said Coleman. "This is her city too and she has to be a part of it. ... Hopefully, when I'm gone, she'll still be here to help make that change."