YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – As the marchers assembled today in the parking lot of the former Bottom Dollar store on Glenwood Avenue for the first Stop The Violence Prayer Walk, it was the little boy who ran through the parking lot that caught the eye of two young police officers who were providing an escort.
Earlier, the boy had scampered from a home on West Princeton Avenue, through the parking lot and across Glenwood Avenue to the Family Dollar store. Now, he was standing at the curb clutching a bag, waiting to cross, as the officers fretted over his safety because of the “racetrack” that one of them called the road.
But the boy looked both ways, ran across the street, through the parking lot back to his home, and closed the door behind him.
The officers were relieved.
The boy did not join the crowd of about 50 marchers, including police Chief Carl Davis, who marched to Sherwood Avenue, crossed Rosedale Avenue then returned to the parking lot down West Princeton Avenue. But they said they were praying for him and others like him that they would not only stay safe in a year that has seen 74 people shot in the city so far, but that he also turns away from violence.
Juliann Green, a city school teacher, said that was one of the reasons why she was marching and praying; the children. She said with school coming up shortly she worries about the safety of the students in the district.
“They need more structure in their lives and it begins with us,” Green said.
The prayer walk was put together by a group of city churches that have banded together to try and stop a string of violence that has seen 17 people killed and 57 people wounded this year. Last year, 98 people were shot in the city, including 27 of 28 homicide victims.
Rev. Kenneth Simon of New Bethel Baptist Church, who helped organized both the march and the churches, said it is important for church members to take their message to the city’s neighborhoods and fill them with prayers and God’s presence.
“What we want to do is show a Godly presence and let the neighbors know we are praying for peace in their neighborhoods,” Simon said.
There will be other prayer walks throughout the year in the city, but a key component is a mediation program that the churches want to start among their members. Simon said there is no doubt that some of the people committing violence in the city have relatives in the churches and a good way to combat the violence is to get those people in and have them talk their differences out.
One of those walking, Nalungo Aduma, came from her East Side neighborhood to take part.
“I thought I need to be here,” she said. “Prayer is powerful for the city.’
The marchers prayed in the intersection of Sherwood and Glenwood avenues, in front of a parking lot where a 23-year-old man was shot and killed in May. A man who did not give his name in the parking lot of the Big A’s Drive Through, which was heavily damaged in an arson earlier this summer, chastised the group for not praying in the parking lot where the man was killed.
He did, however, laud their overall effort.
“The community does need this,” the man said. “The community really does need this.”
People in cars who stopped to allow the group to march filmed them on their phones. One group of young men in a house on Sherwood Avenue came out and greeted several of the pastors in the march by name.
At various stops along the route, the marchers stopped and offered prayers for families affected by violence, for the young people who commit the violence so they will stop, for God’s presence, safety and peace in the neighborhoods and against the spirit or retaliation that fuels a lot of the city’s gun violence.