By Naeisha Rose
Emotions ran high Monday night at Greater Allen A.M.E. Cathedral of New York in St. Albans as congregants and community leaders cried during a performance art piece that was held at the church to kick-start a town hall centered on speaking out against gun violence.
During the Oct. 15 performance, children and teenagers acted out going to school, hanging out with friends and spending time with family during outings with their siblings.
In each scenario, a child or teen was shot. One of the last performances saw the actors pretend to mourn their loved who were gunned down on the streets and held a funeral procession, which brought many guests in attendance to tears.
Another scene included children performing monologues about the adults in their life and members in their community needing to take a stand against the gun violence they see in their neighborhood. While the kids recited their speeches, makeshift street signs read “Anywhere” and “Anytime,” referring to where and when shootings could happen.
“I don’t live in a warzone, but technically I do,” one child said during a monologue.
Afterward, there was a short film titled “Wake Up: The Time for Change is Now,” which depicted photos of children impacted or slain by gun violence, news reports of those lost to gun violence and statistics that said the third leading cause of children dying is gun violence.
Dan Rodriguez, an associate pastor at Greater Allen who also serves as the minister of social justice issues at the church, introduced a panel of eight experts with different specialties and ways to combat or help families that have been victims of gun violence.
He also read the 2017 statistics on gun violence from the NAACP, the national organization that fights for the advancement of people of color.
“Everyday, on average, 42 Americans were killed by gun violence,” said Rodriguez. “There were more than 31,000 firearm related injuries last year. In the same year, there were more than 4,000 American children younger than 17 that were killed or injured by guns from street shootings to mass shootings.”
One of the leading panelists of the night was Erica Ford, an activist and the co-founder of LIFE Camp Inc. — a nonprofit located at 111-12 Sutphin Blvd. in Jamaica that works to reduce violence by promoting peaceful actions that was recognized for its efforts by former President Barack Obama.
“It takes intense work to get someone to change their mind from shooting someone who they are focused on shooting,” said Ford. “It also takes someone to represent hope when you have a community that pushes them to the side and turns their nose on them, and treats them like they are a criminal or not wanted in their own community. So we give them hope.”
LIFE Camp provides mediation and therapy services, educational help and throws social events throughout the year to aid children between the ages of 13 to 24 and their families by giving them alternatives to violence, bullying and other anti-social behavior.
“The question for southeast Queens is what are we as individuals ready to commit ourselves to do,” said Ford. “The time for change is a very long road… and we got to do extra work, because our children in southeast Queens have been dying for a very long time.”
Ford also said that parents could do more by boycotting organizations that support the NRA and support institutions that help the community, that parents could check their kid’s book bags and what they are doing on social media, and join neighborhood block watch groups.
“It takes work to change the condition of our children,” said Ford. “If we are concerned about our children lets invest in our children.”
Also at the meeting was Dr. Phil Craig, the president of the Queens chapter of the National Action Network, Community Affairs Officer Jermaine Washington of the 113 Precinct, John Watson of the Office of Victim Services, brothers Lance and Todd Feurtado of the King of Kings Foundation, Dr. Keneca Boyce, a clinical social worker and therapist, and Kamell Ellis of 1 World Fest, a global nonprofit promoting diversity and social harmony.
Reach reporter Naeisha Rose by e-mail at nrose