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No More Murder March

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. — “I’m here because I lost my son in 2007, four days before Christmas,” said Nancy Davis-Wilson, as she stood before a crowd gathered in Kennedy Plaza, “it has devastated my life.”

Over 500 people walked the second annual No More Murder March of Providence on Sunday June 28, beginning at Billy Taylor Park on the East Side.

Participatory organizations included Urban Men Against Murder, Curse Breakers Outreach Program, and the Institute for the Study and Practice of Non-violence. Many people unaffiliated with organizations participated in the march as well.

“This march is not intended to lift up any certain organization,” said Ryan James Gaumond, “but rather to bring organizations, religions and community together and heal the separation of the city.”

“We try to be that example of correction, forgiveness and unity,” said Dewayne “Boo” Hackney, “we’re trying to unify the city, memorialize the brothers and sisters that we have lost and endorse and support the brothers and sisters who are trying to do the right thing.”

Black shirts saying, “We Are Family” on the front and listing all sections and races of Providence on the back filled the crowd, as well as home-made shirts with photos of family or friends remembered — people lost to violence. Seven men pushed a casket to symbolize the severity of street violence. Many signs and banners waved throughout the march. A steady drumbeat and chant kept the march in unison:

“No more murder! No more separation!”

“No more murder! No more separation!”

After an hour of walking and cheering, the march made its first stop at the Rhode Island School of Design. A presentation by Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard W. Rose, began with a “roll call” listing the names of 159 murder victims in Providence from 1994-to-present, ages ranging from 12-to-29 years old.

Rose spoke of Fratricide, making a point that the murders committed, were made by people of Providence on people of Providence. “We’re not under attack from the outside,” said Rose, “we’re under attack from within.”

He concluded his talk with encouragement and a challenge: “Let’s start raising our children instead of burying them. Let’s teach them that though the odds are long, the struggle difficult, and the challenges many, they too can rise above their circumstances, and live a life of love, tolerance and achievement.”

After the presentation, the march continued to its final destination, Kennedy Plaza. Numerous speakers, live music, free food and fellowship followed.

“I think today shows that it is important for you to have unity, it is important to have community,” said Pastor Julia Jones of Victory Outreach Center. “It’s not about black, it’s not about white, it’s not about Hispanic—it’s about all. Unity is not just East Side coming together or South Side coming together, it means all sides coming together. Eventually we want to have every side of Providence walk down and meet in such a place as Kennedy Plaza and just fellowship and build unity and strength through one another.”

Reginald Morris was ecstatic about the day’s events.  “Today was an eye-opener,” said Morris, “to see the amount of violence and the crime that takes place, especially how the majority of people know one another, grew up with one another, and some of them are even family members. It’s good to see that people are becoming more aware of what’s going on, and they want to take action against the violence.”

“We need to stand up for who we are and respect people’s lives,” said Davis-Wilson during her speech about how the death of her son has affected her life, her children’s lives and her community. “Life has value. Those who are taking people’s lives, they don’t value life; they may not even value their own lives. But you have to value life. We need to stop spilling blood.”

“We want to put a stop to the violence that’s going on in our community,” said Pastor D. Sherrod Jones, “our goal is to increase the peace in Providence.”

After School Arts tutor shares memorable moments

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Teaching and tutoring the After School Arts students in Reservoir Avenue Elementary School is only the beginning of the relationships between tutor and student. Many of the tutors have been tapped into children’s lives and have built positive and influential friendships with them.

“It’s not that we come in and save them, but rather it’s us connecting with them, children who have odds stacked against them,” said Andrew Mook, coordinator of the 2008-2009 ASA program. “These connections breed a lot of really interesting and beautiful things.”

Mook recalled an example that opened his eyes to the difficult lives many of these young children endure and the importance as his job as a mentor and a friend.

During a creative writing session, the children were asked to answer “What’s your favorite day?” Some children wrote about holidays or their birthdays. “But one kid, intuitively enough wrote about a day that hasn’t happened yet,” said Mook, “he wrote about the next day.”

The 5th-grader explained his writing to Mook:

“Tomorrow is my dad’s birthday, but he’s not going to be with me, because he’s in jail. I hope you never have a day like I’m going to have tomorrow. My dad’s in jail because he carries his baggage around with him everywhere he goes. I carry my baggage around with me everywhere I go, so I know that I’m going to end up in trouble, or in jail, or in a grave. So my hope for you, for tomorrow, is that you don’t turn out like me, that you don’t carry your baggage around with you, so you can live as long as you’re supposed to live…and have a nice wife.”

“A story like that doesn’t bring you any hope,” said Mook, “it actually destroys your heart.”
Mook explained that seeing children, who have no male influence and are already being recruited for gangs, are reaching out to the tutors, leveling out and connecting with people who are positive influences, give Mook and the ASA tutors hope.

“We saw during the end of the year his behavior getting so much better,” said Mook, “we were watching him become a man, as many of these kids are way older mentally then they are physically. We saw him turn around and reprimand a friend who was treating a girl in the class badly. It’s the little victories like that that make it worth it, and it’s super rewarding to see the effect we have in reaching out to these kids.”

Underneath all of this, whether it’s tutoring a student, helping a refugee family move in, or hanging out with these tough, high risk children, the ASA tutors said the important aspect of what they do is trying to understand how to love well.

“And knowing that love goes well beyond a welfare check and well beyond a government program,” said Mook, “that love is what we’re aiming for.”

After School Arts (Part 2)

After School Arts (Part 1)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — The crowd was clapping a steady rhythm, cheering louder and louder. Music was pumping, as was 5th grader Isaac C.’s heart.

Dressed in his new black uniform with red stitching across the back, he extended his right hand as a fist and held his left hand flat. He prepped, he prepped, he prepped.

With a smash, Isaac broke his fist through a painted board. A metaphor of what he hopes to see changed in his neighborhood — violence broken apart and eliminated.

“I want people to stop killing people,” said Isaac, “no shooting, no fighting, no war.”

After School Arts, an arts and community building initiative, held their closing ceremony in Columbus Theatre, Wednesday June 17.

The program meets biweekly at Reservoir Avenue Elementary School and offers lessons in music, dance, karate, acting, and fine arts including photography, painting, making collages and drawing for children in grades 3rd-5th.

Fifty students participated in ASA during the 2008-2009 school year. Thirty tutors were involved in teaching the various art forms. The program is free for the students, funded by donations from individuals and churches in the community. This year’s program cost around $2,000.

The closing ceremony unfolded with a free, donated dinner, a gallery of the students’ artwork and a performance showcasing the various disciplines the students learned.

Flashes filled the gallery as parents and relatives snapped photographs of their children’s artwork.

“Give children an opportunity and they will run with it,” said Cheri Olszewski, a mother of Christina, an ASA tutor. “Children’s artistic abilities amaze me every time. What they teach these children will stay with them forever.”

The performance was tucked in a small theatre behind the larger auditorium of Columbus Theatre. An estimated 250 people attended the event, filling every seat, the spaces along the walls, in the aisles and on the floor around the stage.

The performance came to a close with 5th grader Idallace Cortez’s original hip hop song about her life and family, accompanied by a live band made up of ASA tutors and music students.

As she chanted, “L to the O to the V to the E! I said L to the O to the V to the E!” the whole audience rose to their feet and joined her.

“I was absolutely beside myself,” said Linda Sylvia of the program’s closing ceremony. Sylvia’s face lit up as she spoke of her daughter Nyree’s achievement through ASA. “It’s been a great year and a wonderful experience. It’s so important for these kids to see and do something positive. I can’t wait for Nyree’s little brother to participate in this program.”

Two-and-a-half years ago, Andrew Mook, who coordinates ASA, found out that the arts and music program had been cut from Reservoir Ave. He and his artist friends from a church community saw the need and decided to establish this program.

“88% of the students and families at this school are below the state poverty line,” said Mook, “we often get tapped into kids who have a really difficult home life and risk of gangs and violence in their neighborhoods.”

“The Arts create an environment where the kids can be honest and intimate with themselves and with others,” said Mook. “It can help them wrestle with their personal challenges beyond talking about them, which is hard enough. While teaching them art we’re creating connections and friendships with these kids.”
Mook and others involved in ASA meet monthly with the principal of Reservoir Ave to observe academic growth. “It’s incredible,” said Mook, “We’re seeing calculable growth in their grades. They become comfortable and exposed to their own learning style as they engage with material.”

Mook said he is very excited to see the positive repercussions of ASA permeating the community as a number of elementary schools have asked to replicate the program.

Donald Chamblee the grandfather of 5th grader Jaqueasja Chamblee agreed that the knowledge of the arts these children receive impacts their future. “These children have been encouraged to be creative and are very talented. They are going to be successful. And 20 years from now they’ll come back and give to this community.”

That is exactly the cycle After School Arts hopes to establish.

Faith in the Firehouse (Part 3)

NEW YORK — FDNY Firehouse Engine 279, Ladder 131 in Brooklyn, NYC held their annual Memorial Mass in remembrance of fire fighters who have given their lives to save others.

The memorial took place at 11 a.m. Thursday, May 29th. A cleared out fire truck bay served as the sanctuary.

Father John Delendick prepared an altar at the front of the garage, placing a cross made of steal from the wreckage of Ground Zero at the forefront of the altar. He leads one or two memorial services every month.

A list of fallen fire fighters’ names lay on the altar among Bible, candle and cross.

“Today we celebrate those who have died,” said Delendick, “but we also celebrate the living.”

Names read to honor their memory: Donald Clarke, Philip Martin, John Devaney, Robert Sammon, Joseph McDevitt, Mario Starace, Charles Sanchez, Capt. James Savage, Thomas F. Taylor.
Those lost on 9/11: Lt. Anthony Jovic, Ronnie Henderson, Christian Regenhard, Michael Ragusa, Anthony Rodriguez.

Firemen from Battalion 3-2 (engines 279, 202, 224 and 205), gathered in remembrance of their fallen brothers.

“They shared knowledge and experience by example — the best way to be,” said Edward Kuohn of Ladder 131 of the men being honored, “they were wonderful to have around.”

Faith in the Firehouse (Part 2)

NEW YORK — In a job as dangerous as fighting fires, support and spiritual influence play a large role. Like the daily mission of New York City’s firehouse chaplains, another mission for the individuals in the FDNY is Fire Fighters for Christ.

Lt. Jerry Sillcocks leads the New York City branch of this national organization. They are an organization of firefighters reaching out to firefighters.

After 9/11, firehouses were bombarded with Christian people who wanted to help. A lot of the time the fire fighters’ response was to close the door and turn away, because the people, although compassionate, could not speak with fire fighters truly knowing what they’ve experienced.

“Being a fire fighter witnessing to firefighters is all the difference,” said Sillcocks, “if we’re going down a smoky hallway later on tonight, they know I’m going to be right next to them.”

“If I’m not living my faith out every second of my time here, my witness is ruined for these guys,” said Sillcocks, “I have no time knowing that tomorrow may be their death. It’s a serious thing, living like a Christian in a firehouse, when my influence might be the last influence they have.”

The road to Sillcocks’ mission was painful. “In 1997, I had a daughter pass away and it really inspired me to figure out what I was going to do with my faith and if I was going to be serious about it. Or if I was going to be a nominal Christian who went to church on Sunday and it didn’t matter the rest of the week.”

Through his tragedy and conviction to live a Christian life, he has been blessed by the faith and hope in others around him.

He realized that going through a tragedy opens doors for people with similar tragedies to seek him out to get help and answers.

One of Sillcocks’ friends had a daughter who was very sick and in the hospital. “One of the people who could go and talk to him while he was in the hospital with his daughter dying was me because he knew I lived through it and I had an answer for him because I know the Bible, because I read the Bible. Because I was the Christian, he sought me out to get answers from me.”

Another experience where Sillcocks witnessed someone’s faith was when one of his friends who had been transferred to his fire house for a year died on 9/11.

“We always argued in the fire truck cab about God and heaven and hell,” said Sillcocks, “but before he went to his death on 9/11, he accepted Christ as his savior. That’s the difference living your faith out can make in a firehouse.”