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Children stood on the corner of Pender Street and Black Creek Road Sunday, holding up signs to send a message.
“Stop the violence,” the signs read.
They were among dozens who gathered Sunday to hear a message of hope in an effort to unite the Wilson community against gun violence.
“There are too many people dying in our city,” Freddie Williams, pastor of Atmosphere of Praise Church, told the crowd. “Put the guns down.”
Williams and others organized Sunday’s event called For the Love of the City, held beside the Midway convenience store in the area also known as the “schoolyard.”
“It’s already a success because you are here,” Williams continued. “You care.”
The rally was prompted after recent shootings that have claimed the lives of several people, including Redmond L. Barnes Jr., 39, and 34-year-old Elliot D. Barnes, who were gunned down a week ago in the same area where the event was held Sunday.
“Right across those trees, that’s where those two men died,” Williams said pointing to the area. “This is where the last attack happened.”
Williams called the area where they were holding the rally, “ground zero.”
“This is where we plan our battle and fight for our city,” he said.
Sunday’s event included several speakers, music, food and conversation about next steps and getting involved to curb street violence.
“It gives us an opportunity to give a community hope, that we care and we are in this fight together,” Williams said. “This is the perfect time to let people know we care and love one another.”
‘WE ARE HERE TO HELP YOU’
Angie Hall, business owner and founder of the nonprofit Hall Foundation, which sponsors numerous events for youth in the Wilson community, knows all too well what gun violence can do to families. Her father was murdered in 2003, she said. And her cousin, Shikia Hall, 20, and another woman, Sha’Diamond Littleton, 19, were killed in a spray of gunfire as they sat in a parked car in Wilson’s Five Points area in 2011. The women were caught in the crossfire due to rival gangs in the neighborhood.
“It’s just been rampant,” Hall said about the recent violence. “We know first how it feels to lose a family member to murder. We understand the pain, the hurt.”
Families whose loved ones have died recently as a result of gun violence also attended Sunday’s gathering.
Hall said she was there to encourage the community to stand as one.
“If we all come together, we can put an end to this,” she said.
Hall said she also wanted to send a message to children and others that there is a way out and that many organizations and people are there for those who want to choose a different path.
“We are here to help you,” Hall said.
A MESSAGE TO YOUTH
Lenille Woodard and Donta Chestnut were also a part of organizing the Sunday’s event.
“It’s getting rougher and rougher,” Woodard said. “Enough is enough.”
Chestnut said when he was kid growing up in the neighborhood, he had someone tell him that he had potential to change the city. His mentor encouraged him to take a different path.
“Ten years from now, you can be one of the one’s on the same block, you can be dead or locked up,” Chestnut recalled the mentor saying. “It’s on you to make a change.”
Chestnut said years later, he finds himself talking to kids in the same area, the same way.
“It’s the same message,” he said, adding that it’s vital to encourage youth with positivity.
‘LEAVE THIS PLACE BETTER’
Before the speakers got started, Williams urged the crowd to pick up a bag and pick up trash in the area.
“We want to leave this place better than it was before,” Williams said. Steven Locus, 10, and his grandmother, Peggy Bowens, took part in the clean up. Steven said he wanted to do something to help clean up the neighborhood.
“It’s a good cause,” he said.
Wilson County Sheriff’s deputies and the Wilson Police Department were also at the event.