Members of the Ward 5 community gathered for a March for Peace to stand against violence
At 3 p.m. on a sunny Saturday about 60 men donning red Washington Capitals baseball caps, women and children gathered at North Capitol Street and Florida Avenue Northwest for the March for Peace, organized by Sons of Life.
Tony Lewis Jr., 30, is the CEO of Sons of Life, and grew up on Hanover Place, three blocks away from the march starting point. The violence he witnessed his whole life prompted him to take a stand by organizing a peace march with his friend Silas Grant, 31.
“This community and other communities throughout Washington, D.C., have been plagued with violence historically, and you have a new level of problems in terms of gentrification,” Lewis said. “This march is really to symbolize bringing the people together.”
According to the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department, the homicide count as of February 23, 2011 is at 14. In 2010 there were 131 homicides in the city.
Lewis is also a Job Developer/Vocational Development Specialist at Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency for the District of Columbia. He helps inmates who will be returning to the real world soon find jobs.
His non-profit organization, Sons of Life, is made up of sons of fathers who are incarcerated. The sons want to set a better example for D.C. youth.
“My father, Tony Lewis, is one of the most well-known drug kingpins in the history of D.C.,” Lewis said. “For me to not follow in his footsteps and to be a beacon of positive light amongst the ex-offender population is something that I take very seriously and I take pride in.” .
After greeting friends, family, and members of the community such as councilman Harry Thomas of Ward 5 with handshakes, hugs and smiles, Lewis and Grant led everyone in a circle to hold hands for a prayer.
At 3:30, the group began walking down North Capitol causing people from the busy street to look on. They held white signs reading “Unity,” “Honk for Peace” and “D.C. or Nothing.”
Some demonstrators went in the middle of busy streets along the walk such as New York Avenue holding a “Honk for Peace” sign as cars blew their horns in solidarity.
Alicia Wilson, 38, who grew up in the area and walked in the march, said it was a step in the right direction.
“The impact this has on the community is for all of us to see some positiveness and to see that people do genuinely care, and to send a message to our youth saying that we’re out here and that we’re here for you,” Wilson said.
The march route went south on North Capitol Street and west on New York Avenue. It then walked north on First Street and east on Florida Avenue back to the meeting spot.
As the walk came to an end, Grant who toted a bullhorn throughout the walk, spoke on how the day impacts the youth.
“The kids that are 15 to 25 are the kids that are coming up behind us,” Grant said. “So they need to see us together practicing non-violence, and as we move forward we got to keep in mind that everyday that we walk people are watching us.”
Grant also spoke about how the growing diversity in the area needs to be respected by the youth in the community as well.
“Some of the young people have taken advantage of people of different cultures thinking it’s ok to rob someone because they’re Caucasian or it’s ok to assault someone because they’re Hispanic,” Grant said. “We’ve got to respect diversity, accept it and make the best of it.”
In January, Billy Mitchell, 33, who happens to be white, was shot and killed on the corner of Florida Avenue and North Capitol. The community was outraged especially since Mitchell’s father was known for being active in the North Capital corridor, improving the community.
“It just so happens that the people that got shot within the last two weeks didn’t happen to be the normal victim in this community,” Lewis said. “We saw a different reaction from the city.”
“We are all one. When something happens it affects all of us, and we should all be appalled and outraged when anybody’s hurt.”
Michael Wilson, 34, representing Sons of Life, grew up on Hanover Place as well and walked in memory of those he lost through violence and jail.
“Behind bars, Lewis’ dad has life and my dad has life,” Wilson explained. “That’s where the name Sons of Life came from. We’re trying to uplift the city of D.C., right the wrongs and the paths that our fathers committed, and make a more positive future for the kids.”
Lewis said he used grassroots methods such as Twitter, Facebook, text messaging and phone calls to get the message out about the march. He said changes going on abroad in other countries inspired them as well.
“I just hope this will will be a start of something powerful,” Lewis said. “We’ve been very inspired by what’s been going on in Egypt the last week or two, and it’s just power to the people.”
Grant stressed that the march was not about their organization but for the community as a whole.
“We have to get to a point where we make extraordinary ordinary,” Grant said. “Ordinary people have to do extraordinary things.”