An evening of healing to talk about the effects of violence on families and the steps that can be taken to prevent it left few dry eyes or light moods at Stanley Homes Village on Saturday night.
Many came out to openly discuss their grief, regrets, lessons learned and desire for improvement in Atlantic City.
Ricky Campbell, 29, said there is not enough open conversation.
“2012 was the first time that I felt grief from a death,” Campbell said. “I lost four close people — family and friends — in a matter of days. It made me grow up.”
He said events such as the one Saturday night, Break the Silence End the Violence, were steps to help change the cycle of violence in the city.
George Rex, a local contractor and a resident of the city, said he lost his 21-year-old son about 17 years ago, and still remembers the knock at the door “like it was yesterday.”
Rex recalled being angry and wanting to retaliate, knowing full well who was behind the murder. He recalled gathering a group of eight friends, obtaining the weapons and having a man ready at the doorstep, before suddenly calling it off.
“Out of eight people in the room that day, five were murdered,” at a later date, he said.
“I’ve been to too many funerals and seen too many people be buried,” Rex said, pausing as he tried to control his tears.”Somewhere this has to stop.”
One question repeated by some of the speakers was, “Where are the weapons coming from?”
“They can buy guns on the streets the way you buy a pack of cigarettes,” said Ronda Lampkin, who lost her son to gun violence.
Mothers, aunts and uncles of victims took turns at the microphone, telling the audience of about 40 their tragedies.
All called for stopping the violence and finding ways to send a message to the youth of the community.
Some of the men admitted to having committed crimes themselves, and after coming out realizing the potential to make a change.
“It was like fresh air,” said Micah Khan, of Camden. Khan was one of five who came with the group Cease Murder Diplomats, which reaches out to support families at the scene of a crime.
Another speaker, Antonio Winters Sr., said, “What people care about in Atlantic City is where you’ve been, who you are related to, and what you are going to do to help someone out.”
Winters said this is indicative of the size and caring of the community. “Go missing for a week and see if nobody asks you where you’ve been,” he said.
Councilman Marty Small also attended, and told the audience that he hopes to install a video surveillance system to serve as a deterrent to some of the violence.
“I am not naïve enough to think cameras will stop the violence. We have got some bold people out here,” Small said.
Many of the parents or relatives who lost a family member said they didn’t think the victim was “mixed up in anything bad.”
Winters asked, “How can you heal from a condition if there is no acknowledgement of an illness?”
Marte King, community activist and organizer of the event, ended the night encouraging adults to take responsibility for their actions and children, and talked about ideas to create activities and work opportunities that will help divert the attention of the young men and women in the community.
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