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Traditional African Community Remembers Slain Youth

Elton Hayes | 7/13/2011, 10:09 a.m.

When the procession arrived at the Anacostia River, Deal and Nana Afuah Bakaan, an elder Akan priest, led the group in prayers for the children. Deal and others asked the river to be gentle and loving, and to accept the sacrifices it was about to receive.

Aza Zhengha recited a poignant poem which was followed by a prayer for children who were the victims of violence. Participants lined up in single file to cast peanuts and stones into the river as a tribute to those who had passed away.

"Being in touch with the youth is critical. If they don't have an understanding of who they are, or what their ancestors have accomplished, or have been through ... then in many ways, they are lost. To be able to bring the young people in is critical," said Eurica Huggins, co-founder of the African Diaspora Ancestral Commemoration Institute, a Washington, D.C-based nonprofit that commemorates the millions of Africans who died during the Middle Passage.

For one participant, the issue of youth violence wasn't a talking point.

Iyani'ifa Aworonke Titilewa Conley cried as she cast the stones into the murky Anacostia River. Flanked by friends who held each arm, she made her way slowly back from the river bank. She shed tears for her three sons, each a victim of gun violence over a seven-year span.

"If I had a magnet, I would go through the city and pull away every gun, so that these children would stop killing each other," said Conley who was visibly upset. "No mother should lose her child. For me to have lost all of my boys, it must have been for a reason or for a purpose. It has yet to have been revealed to me what I am to do. But I know that there is something for me to do."

Although it has been 15 years since the death of her last child, Conley continues to struggle to understand the meaning behind these tragedies.

"Every day I pray, please, help these kids out here to stop. It has to stop, it must stop. We are losing too many young people for no reason. No reason at all," Conley said.