The families of five slain District youth poured out their emotions at an Aug. 9 ceremony that celebrated their lives and condemned the circumstances of their demise at The Fridge, an art gallery in Ward 6.
Pathways 2 Power, a student-led advocacy group based at the Thurgood Marshall Academy Public Charter School in Southeast, unveiled a mural honoring Paris Brown, Zaire Kelly, Steve Slaughter, Jamahri Sydnor and Taiyania Thompson – young people who lost their lives to gun violence during the 2017-2018 school year. The mural serves as the key representation of “The Limestone of Lost Legacies Mural Project” led by Pathways 2 Power co-founder Lauryn Renford.
Renford told the audience of 100 family members, friends, anti-gun violence advocates and politicians her motivation for wanting the mural to be done and placed on The Fridge’s building.
“First, I wanted to humanize the victims,” Renford said. “Second, I wanted the mural to be in a neighborhood where the people live luxuriously and third, I want this mural to call people to action to have further conversations to the epidemic of gun violence in the city.”
Pathways 2 Power raised nearly $13,000 with over 175 donors providing financial assistance for the project. Alex Goldstein, the owner of The Fridge, heartily agreed to provide a wall for the mural and artist Martin Swift painted the mural.
D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine, D.C. State Board of Education members Markus Batchelor (Ward 8) and Jessica Sutter (Ward 6) attended the event along with D.C. Counci member David Grosso (I-At Large).
Racine, who looked visibly shaken while delivering his remarks, said “the death of young people by gun violence is becoming routine.”
“These kids were doing the right thing,” the attorney general said pointing to the mural. “These kids weren’t engaged in conduct that was bad. We have to work to not make this normal.”
Q Wallace, the mother of Jamahri, worked for decades with the D.C. police department investigating homicide cases, including those dealing with youth. However, she never thought one of her own children would be a homicide victim.
“Jamahri had great promise and was a forward thinker,” Wallace said. “She didn’t deserve to die like that. I do like that she is a part of the mural and it makes me happy to see her name and her likeness up there.”
Wallace said she plans to develop an organization that will deal with issues of gun violence and how it affects youth.
Gwen Gaither, the first cousin of Steve, said District residents need to step in and stop the violence. To remember her cousin, she created an acronym.
“His name was Steve,” Gaither said. “S stands for Stop, T stands for Toward, E stands for Ending, V is for Violence and E stands for Everyday. We should talk to people every day about STEVE.”
Seditra Brown sobbed during her remarks but said “these are not tears of hurt but tears of joy.”
“Paris had so much determination and he was my last child,” Brown said. “He kept telling me ‘Ma, I am going to be a legend someday.’ He is my first child to die and I lost another one in April.”
Zion Kelly, Zaire’s twin brother, talked about how painful remembering his sibling can be at times but said he “pushes on.”
Kelly attends Florida A&M University and presently works as an intern in Racine’s office.
“That is what he would have wanted me to do,” Kelly said. “I know he isn’t here with me physically, but I know he is with me spiritually. When he was alive, we would talk a lot about going to Florida A&M and being there together.”