Saturday was one of the largest Blessing Day Events we have had at Embrace Richmond in the four year history of the event, with more than 100 individuals from all over the city turning out to bless Hillside court. MCV brought over a dozen health care professionals and students who assessed the health care needs of more than forty residents during our health fair, roughly 80 coats were distributed, two families received furnishings and volunteers from five different congregations walked every section of the community greeting residents and praying for the families of those who have lost their lives in Hillside court in the past six months. The night prior to the Blessing Day, yet another youth was shot in the Hillside community. Thankfully the young man was not killed.
As a part of our debriefing process we ask volunteers three questions. First, “What will you leave behind as a result of this experience?” Secondly, “What memory will you take with you?” Lastly, “What will you do different as a result of this experience?”
We usually leave the community and do our debriefing back at our building with the congregational volunteers. However, Saturday it was beautiful outside so we decided to do the debriefing in a large field in the community and invited community residents to join us. My debriefing group was roughly half congregational volunteers, primarily youth, and half community residents, primarily children.
The first question is usually the easy one. The most popular answers are “I am going to leave behind thinking homeless people are scary.” Or “I’m giving up the idea that I will get killed if I walk into Hillside court.” Or “I’m giving up wanting more stuff.” However, the first child to respond on Saturday was an eight year old little girl from Hillside court. Her answer? Guns. When asked what people should leave behind when coming into her neighborhood, she said guns! As you can imagine, we were all speechless.
We read about Hillside in the paper and think “drug deals gone bad, turf wars, gang retaliation.” We don’t think about the eight year old little girl curled up under her bed praying the bullets don’t come flying through her window. We don’t hear her screams. We do not think about the fear she must feel on a regular basis wondering if a loved one will be caught in the cross fire. We don’t think about her riding her bike past the police tape with blood splattered on the wall.
What memory will I carry with me from today? I will carry with me the face of that precious eight year old little girl who is pleading with us all to stop the senseless killing.
When we surveyed the community more than a year ago, safety and unemployment were the top two issues named by the residents. I have written about the issue of violence in several post such as Stop the Insanity and The Insanity Continues, and others. But to be honest, safety just seemed like such an impossible issue that we have put little emphasis on it in our work as community organizers. So far, I have been all talk and no action. However, that eight year old little girl is not going to let me off the hook that easily. She deserves better. What will I do differently because of Saturday’s event? I will put more focus on helping the residents increase community safety. How will I do that? I have no idea!
That is where I need your help. Do you know communities like Hillside Court where the residents were empowered to reduced crime? How was it done? Anyone out there want to join us on this quest for safer streets in the Hillside Court Community? Is anyone out there willing to pray for us as we seek to address this issue?
Please pray God sends us wise council. Pray for the violence to stop. Pray for the police. Pray for the perpetrators of the violence. Pray that there is healing for those impacted. Pray my little friend never has to hear gun shots outside her window again!