A community gathering centered around stopping violence in Fresno on Saturday turned into a call to action for city residents.
Taymah Jahsi, an organizer with Faith in Fresno, part of the recently launched Faith in the Valley, said the event was meant to bring the community together and encourage residents to seek change in their neighborhoods.
“What we’re providing today is a follow-through,” Jahsi said, explaining that the gathering at the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and California Avenue was a chance to start improving the community.
Jahsi said the focus of the gathering was to give attention to southwest Fresno, a part of the city that she says often is overlooked.
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“We’re not trying to discount what’s happening in other parts of the city, we’re just saying there needs to be additional attention put here,” she said.
Jahsi said Fresno residents need to work together and support each other. Those who attended were given information on an upcoming mayoral forum at Gaston Middle School and were helped with voter registration.
“What I’m hoping is that the entire city will start to see that we need to be more cohesive,” she said.
The crowd marched through neighborhoods and circled an area of southwest Fresno as Jahsi read names of victims who have died from gun violence in Fresno. After each name, the crowd responded, “We hear your blood.”
I was just thinking about everybody that we lost (and) about how I had to grow up without my mom.
Ruby Williams, 25, sang through a megaphone as the crowd marched through the residential neighborhood. She said she attended the march to remember her mother, who died from gun violence when Williams was 3 years old.
“I was just thinking about everybody that we lost (and) about how I had to grow up without my mom,” Williams said.
Charlotte Haynes, 32, of Fresno also marched to remember her brother Robert Reynolds, 22, who was killed on Sept. 11 in east-central Fresno.
“I don’t want (Reynolds’) name to fade away, like so many other people,” Haynes said. “It’s cool to see everyone out here and being supportive of the march, but it takes more than a walk down the street.”
Rodney Murphy, a Fresno City College counselor for the Idile and SYMBAA programs that focus on African American students, also spoke when the crowd took a break from walking in the heat.
Murphy spoke about his past as a gang member and how he was able to turn his life around, calling himself an “expert.”
He said he watched gangs develop in his neighborhood as he grew up and returned to school 13 years ago when two of his friends went to prison.
“For me, it stopped when I started caring for something more than myself,” Murphy said.
He added that since he returned to school, he has earned associate and bachelor degrees in business and African-American studies as well as a master’s degree in counseling.
Organizer Jahsi also promoted an alternative to the city’s current Ceasefire program, which is administered by the Mayor’s Gang Prevention Initiative. Jahsi said she would like the Ceasefire program to be turned over to community-based groups.
“The ceasefire that we are trying to bring to the community is one that has been done in Richmond, California, Oakland and Boston,” Jahsi said. “It’s one that has been proven to work.”
The ceasefire that we are trying to bring to the community is one that has been done in Richmond, California, Oakland and Boston. It’s one that has been proven to work.
Taymah Jahsi, organizer with Faith in Fresno
Jahsi’s idea is that the ceasefire program would reach out to the community and nurture residents rather than “scaring them straight” as the current program does, its main objective being to reduce violence.
“We know if it is done properly, then we can actually save our children instead of throwing them in prison,” she said.
When the marching crowd returned to its initial location, they were met with 24 drawings of bodies that represented the 24 homicides in Fresno so far this year.
Kehinde Solwazi, an African-American instructor at Fresno City, spoke about the need to give young people good role models and to be there for them.
He said young people need to be given purpose in their community so they can know themselves better.
“That’s why they kill each other, they don’t know who they are,” he said.