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Sharon Park is site of inspirational gathering

By Ron Wynn

Citizens from across the Haughville section of Indianapolis were joined by public officials, performers and media representatives Sunday in the ninth annual "Stop The Violence" rally held at Sharon Park last Sunday. The event combined family activities with inspirational speeches, calls for more citizen political participation, pleas for an end to senseless violence, and performances from a gospel group, a poet, and two area rappers.

An event that was started in memory of a proud young man cut down prematurely in another of what seems like an endless array of unfortunate and useless crimes, the "Stop The Violence" rally has grown to the point it attracted coverage from the "Indianapolis Star" newspaper, Channel 13, and even an international photojournalist who came all the way from Atlanta. Sharon Park began filling up right at 2 p.m., and by the time entertainment began at 4 p.m., the place was packed with all ages, multiple races and both genders well represented.

But long before the music and verbal fireworks began, there were words of wisdom and concern voiced by community and political leaders. One was current city councilor Vop Osili, who has been very active in the campaign for what he deems "re-entry," getting people previously convicted of a crime back into the work force by eliminating the area on job applications that calls for this to be mentioned.

"How many of you have been in jail before," he began. Several hands shot up. "How many of you know someone who has been in jail before," he continued. Far more hands went into the air. "That's what I'm talking about," he added. "It is very important that we continue to fight for jobs, and one thing that happens all too often is people who have made one mistake are shut out from ever getting back into the system. That's something we've got to stop."

"You can be anything that you set your minds and hearts to be," he continued. "Too often we're told that we can't do something and we believe it. Don't let anyone tell you that. Don't believe it. Believe in yourselves and believe in your ability."

"One last thing," he added. "You've got to be strong enough to walk away from a situation. We've got to find ways as a community to resolve conflicts. We can't continue to kill and fight and beat each other over these things. We will never move forward until we learn that basic thing. It takes real courage to walk away from a fight."

Chef Patrice Abduallah, a former elected official from 2002-08, a past Neighborhood Association member and someone who's spent the bulk of his life in Haughville, added this insight in an interview. "The village is not taking care of itself, but events like this can help bring people together," Chef Abduallah said. "When the family breaks up, when we see children not being cared for and not respecting adults, then the community has to step up and meet those responsibilities."

"We're living in rough times," he added. "We're seeing babies killing babies, and the society as a whole is not reacting and responding. Events like this are about giving something back, and that's what we need to do and see as a community. It gives us a chance to hear and see the people who are supposed to be representing us, to let them know what we need in the community."

"It's also the chance for us to celebrate and enjoy being around each other. We need to bring back that sense of oneness, that urge for education that has been something we seem to have lost."

The program's founder, Helen Yeakey, was honored with a presentation of roses during the formal presentations. She also said that it was way past time for the violence and killing to stop. "We must stop the violence," she said. "We've lost too many wonderful young people to it. It's up to all of us to stop it." A particularly moving part of the program came when balloons were released throughout the park in recognition of the many previous victims of violence in the community.

The event also drew such area dignitaries as Judge Gerald Coleman, Chief Deputy Constable Randy Lane and Constable Kevin Kelly, all from Wayne County Township. They all urged the rally participants to feel free to call on them at any time, and to view them as willing voices interested in hearing from them and anxious to help.

Poet Rehema McNeil served as emcee for the entertainment portion, and she drew a rousing reception for a poem that celebrated the diversity and energy of young Black people and the Black community as a whole.

The gospel group According to Your Faith presented an intriguing blend of vintage and original music. One tune blended the melody and some of the lyrics from the Maze classic "Before I Let Go" with their own inspirational and spiritual lyrics during the bridge. The  four-piece unit (two keyboards, bass and drums plus a vocalist who doubled on keys) did music that had both a funk edge and a gospel flavor.

Rappers Mouchee Deeki and Cassini did freestyle presentations that were alternately engaging and edgy. Deeki, who often has a searing and prophetic tone to his raps, this time did a more uplifting, congenial and entertaining presentation with more fluid and entertaining than animated lyrics. Cassini offered the more direct political themes, discussing racism, oppression and anger within a tightly hued verbal approach that combined urgency and immediacy.

McNeil also displayed her verbal dexterity with a freestyle that showed she  is not only a compelling poet, but a fiery rapper and spoken word denizen. She also flawlessly handled presiding over a dance contest, and did an admirable job bridging the time between segments and making the transitions between acts.

Finally, it was time for everyone to leave, but Sharon Park remained crowded well after the rally's designated 8 p.m. ending. It was like folks enjoyed themselves so much they did not want to go home, and had gotten such an exuberant message they had to burn off some more energy.

Hopefully, the calls to not let the passion and dynamic sensibility of the day go to waste will be heeded. As Councilman Osili said near the end of his talk, "We have to take what we're seeing here today and keep it going through the weeks and into the months. We must begin to transform this community."

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