On Saturday July 13, 2013, West Harlem Development Corporation (WHDC) sponsored a “Stop the Violence Now!” rally with the purpose drawing out the residents of the Manhattanville/ Grant housing complexes to stand up against gang-violence that has plagued the area for more than 40 years. Some 100 residents from the two housing complexes shared the sidewalk of 126th & Old Broadway and made acquaintances over music, food, and statements from invited guests and civic leaders, most wearing the “Stop the Violence Now!” t-shirts.
Opening the rally, Mr. Kofi Boateng, Executive Director of WHDC emphasized that the event was historic and successful because it marked the initial attempt by the community, working collaboratively with the 26 Precinct, the Housing Police, the Residents Associations, National Action Network(NAN) and nonprofit organizations funded by WHDC to provide various services, to send a strong message that said: “enough of violence and on with positive activities to bring in peace and prosperity for all, letting the message filter from one to another. It is not about how many people come to hold placards but how few dedicated adults and youth take the message of responsibility to others when there are no microphones and music.”
It would be recalled that on June 26, 2013, a New York City court sentenced a young resident of the housing complexes to 25-years in jail for the murder of another resident on September 11, 2011. Several residents recounted their personal brushes with youth violence in the area going back several years. Derrick Johnson added a personal note when he informed the attendees that about 20 years ago he was one of two people shot in the complex. Unfortunately the other individual died. Mr. Johnson applauded the efforts by WHDC to collaborate to bring much needed education and employment services to the youth to divert their energies from self destruction to upliftment. The long-term president of Manhattanville Residents Association, Ms. Ann Morris, was present throughout the day, walker and all, to lend her support.
Adding their voices to the message of no more violence were: Councilmember Robert Jackson, Sarah Martin (president of Grant Housing Residents Association), Maritta Dunn, president of the Grant-Manhattanville Benefit Fund, Deputy Inspector Stephen Griffith, Commanding Officer, 26th Precinct, and Deputy Inspector Luis Despaigne, Commanding Officer, PSA 6. Speaking for Street Corners and representing NAN, Aesha Sekou recounted the stories of mothers who have lost their children to gun violence. The highlight of the day was an appeal by Mr. Taylonn Murphy, father of slain Tayshana Murphy to the adults to stand up to responsibility and the youth to stand down on gang violence.
He was embraced on stage by Arnita Brockington, who has lost her son, Tyshawn Brockinton, to the penal system, and Stacy Collins, mother of Terique Collins. The embrace of the three was a victory for reconciliation and a strong message to all that the pain is shared but must stop. Derrick Haynes of Full Circle Life Enrichment, a grantee of WHDC, who started the reconciliation initiative, echoed the need for progressive programs using facilities in the area to replace boredom and gang activities.
Present to recruit participants for various programs were representatives from select WHDC- funded organizations: The Mission Society, Manhattan Legal Services, and Ecumenical Community Development Organization. Impact Repertory Theatre, another WHDC-funded organization brought the attendees to their feet with rousing music and dance routines with anti-violence messages. Half of the individuals running to become the Councilmember for the 7th District did not miss the opportunity to introduce themselves and endorse the beginning steps of antiviolence activities for Grant Manhattanville Housing. They were: Alicia Backsdale, Joyce Johnson, Mark Levine, Gerard Powell and Zead Ramadan. Local businesses donated tickets to their activities that were raffled to ensure that for each event, representative of each of the housing units would attend together. Our hearty thanks to The Cotton Club, Dinasour Bar-B-Que, Floridita Cuban Restaturant, NYC9 Resturant, NYC Salsa, Sylvia’s Restaturant along several other businesses that contributed.