The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that guns kill 96 Americans per day. While thousands gathered to have their voice heard at the Women’s March just blocks away, these crosses spoke for themselves. While this past Saturday marked the one-year anniversary of the inauguration of President Trump, the demonstration was a vigil to promote unity and not a political statement.
Tao Martinez, Greg Zanis, and Robert Renteria worked together to lead the demonstration to its success. The three worked nonstop to create the personalized crosses by hand, sometimes working for 22 hours straight, with the help of a few volunteers. Zanis and Martinez made the 11-hour drive from the Chicago suburb to Washington, D.C. with one of the trailers filled with crosses.
The two met with Renteria and other volunteers Saturday morning to carefully place the crosses, one by one, on the Southwest lawn of The Ellipse. The entire process took about 4 hours. The magnitude of the display caught the attention of every person who walked by.
Crosses for Losses is “a team of committed American citizens who understand that you can’t be a part of the solution unless you’re a part of the process,” as stated on their website. Founder, Greg Zanis, created the organization over 20 years ago as a way to help others and grieve his own personal loss. Recently, Tao Martinez and Robert Renteria also joined the organization after losing a loved one to gun violence. “We want to make our country safe,” said Martinez. The trio wanted to do “something fantastic, something big, something that the whole world and nation can come together to support,” Martinez stated.
“I don’t want to deliver this news to fathers and mothers” and “this year was just one after another,” Martinez continued, referring to the many tragic deaths in America. Martinez works as an emergency responder and used to serve as a Deputy Coroner. So, not only does he witness tragic deaths every day, but he used to determine the cause of death and identify the remains of victims. He expressed that each and every cross was made from recycled wood. “Nothing started with fresh wood,” Martinez stated. Each cross came from a donation because the team did not have the resources to buy the 15,000 dollars worth of fresh wood required to make all 2,000 crosses. The team had to pull out nails, trim, and treat the wood before constructing the crosses into their final shape. Each cross is personal and unique. It features a heart, as well as a picture and name of a victim of gun violence.
“It was truly amazing to see,” Belmira Machado, a participant in the vigil said. “It’s one thing to hear about the tragic deaths on the news, but it’s another to see their faces and see the visual representation like this. Something has to change,” she continued.
Renteria, an author and motivational speaker, feels as if “we need to start bringing solutions to the table.” He invested 350,000 dollars of his own money to create a bilingual children’s book series, as part of his personal solution. The Barrio Books help to educate children in the U.S. and internationally in 25 other countries. Renteria stated that he is “trying to provide kids of all ages, races, religions, and economic backgrounds viable and culturally relevant teaching tools.” Educators use his books and curriculum everywhere from the classroom to prisons to churches and homeless shelters. The books focus on social and emotional learning. They can also be used free of charge because Renteria understands the lack of funding that exists for programs and schools.
Eventually, Crosses for Losses seeks to expand to have nationwide regional chapters. These regional chapters will ensure that everyone who suffers a tragic loss will receive a personalized cross. Tao Martinez also wants to create a crime victim assistance program for families to use as a resource. If you would like to learn more about the organization, find ways to get involved, or donate to the cause, please visit their website at www.crossesforlosses.net.