‘No killing allowed:’ Hundreds march for nonviolence in Youngstown
YOUNGSTOWN — The last conversation Lydia Walker had with her nephew, Isiah Walker, centered on his uncertainty about what his major should be when he enrolled in college.
“I told him, ‘You don’t need a major; it will come to you,'” Walker, of Youngstown, recalled.
The next thing she knew, her nephew had been found shot to death after having played basketball in Homestead Park on the South Side. He was 16.
Isiah also was among those whose lives had been lost to violence and were remembered and honored during Sunday afternoon’s 12th annual Nonviolence Parade and Rally. Hundreds of people of all ages took part in the gathering that began at Wood Street and Wick Avenue and proceeded to the Youngstown Foundation Amphitheatre.
Hosting the event was Mahoning Valley Sojourn to the Past.
Isiah, affectionately known as “Zay,” attended Youngstown Rayen Early College, was musically inclined and interested in pursuing such a career, wanted to move from Youngstown and see other parts of the world and was “full of life,” Lydia Walker explained. Another top priority for Isiah was being a role model for his brothers and others, his aunt continued.
After having been shot in the park in late May, Isiah made it to his Wilbur Avenue home about a block away, where he collapsed and died. His death was the city’s eighth homicide of 2022.
Lydia and other family members have started what they call a “Do it for Zay” campaign in which they encourage others to do something positive in Isiah’s name.
Before the program at the amphitheater, many in the parade carried signs that read, for example, “Peace is not a distant goal that we seek, but a means,” “Remember the ones we lost,” “Stop the gun violence, no killing allowed” and “Why resort to violence when you can stop the violence?”
Among those who are trying to teach and demonstrate such ideals is Greta Glenellen, a cultural coordinator at Summit Academy in Youngstown, who plans this week to introduce students in grades eight to 12 to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s six principles of nonviolence.
The principles state that the philosophy is a way of life for courageous people, seeks to win friendship and understanding, seeks to defeat injustice instead of people, holds that suffering can be educational and transformative, chooses love instead of hate and believes the universe is on the side of justice.
“We do restorative justice,” Glenellen said, referring to teaching the importance of empathy and repairing harm done to others in lieu of resorting to suspension, expulsion or other punitive actions.
One way to achieve that goal is through circle time, in which teachers discuss with students the wide-ranging effects violent acts can have not just on the targets, but on other students and educators, she explained.
“They have to realize that violence is not the only way,” Glenellen said, adding that it’s vital to continually talk to students and make them more mindful about achieving it.
The program’s keynote speaker was Joann Bland, a longtime civil- and human-rights activist from Selma, Ala., who was on the Edmund Pettus Bridge on March 7, 1965, when Alabama state troopers attacked about 600 marchers in the first Selma-to-Montgomery march attempt. The day is known infamously as “Bloody Sunday.”
Bland, a U.S. Army veteran, said that in some key ways, today’s societal problems have parallels to the civil rights struggles of the 1960s. A primary cause of some of them is what she sees as a reduction in strictness and discipline in many homes, compared with 50 years ago.
“Something’s wrong, and where has the love gone?” she asked.
In addition, it’s critical for adults to do what they can to mold young people into productive citizens, in part by seeing the difference between discipline and punishment.
Bland, who referred to herself as “an old-school grandma,” compared people’s roles in producing productive children and a more just society to a jigsaw puzzle, saying each person is like a piece to it.
“If you complete that picture, you’re the most important part,” Bland said, adding, “We’re going to have to find love again and realize we’re (often) part of the problem and have to make it better.”
In addition, it’s important to realize that violence neither solves problems nor leads to progress, said the longtime activist, who also co-founded the National Voting Rights Museum in Selma and is its former director.
Others who spoke included Youngstown City Councilman Julius Oliver, D-1st Ward, who said placing value on others is an effective way to curb violence, along with Mayor Jamael Tito Brown, schools Superintendent Justin Jennings and police Chief Carl Davis.
Every citizen has to be proactive in fighting crime in the city. It’s highly upsetting that too many senior citizens are afraid to go outdoors and many parents can’t allow their children to be outside because of fear they could be shot, Davis said.
“We need you to come forward with any information you have about crime,” he added.
One of the event’s most touching and haunting moments for many was the spoken word portion in which several Mahoning Valley Sojourn to the Past members on the stage re-enacted and read aloud slices of narratives of several people who lost their lives to violence as a way of humanizing them.
Those they honored were Rowan Sweeney, 4; Isiah Walker, 16; Persayus Davis-May, 10; Reshaud Biggs Jr., 17; Jamail Johnson, 25; Tariq Morris, 3 months; Valarcia Blair, 19; Edward Morris, 21; Keimone Black, 29; Walter Kornegay, 36; Matthew Burroughs, 35; Landon Lockhart, 14; and Eric Gibbs, 42.