PATERSON, NJ - Just hours after they were among the mourners at a funeral for one of four young Paterson men shot dead July 7, a group of activists- parents, clergy, business owners, and more- were out on Paterson’s streets again Thursday to help bring an end to the violence that has too long held their city under siege.
“We have to bring the message to them,” Rahshon Dixon, Community Outreach Director for Men Stand Up said. Likening their efforts to those of preachers that have long ventured outside their churches to deliver the Word Dixon added “They’re not coming from the streets, so we are bringing it to the street corner.”
Even as the dark clouds rolled in the intersection at 10th Avenue and E. 23rd Street the numbers grew, some had planned to be there, others drawn to it more spur of the moment, perhaps because a crowd always attracts a crowd or, more likely, through the power of the message that was being delivered.
Dozens of cars would roll by as the proceedings continued, the majority slowing down long enough, windows open, to hear what was being said.
This was all by design Dixon would say, sharing a hope that the effort to end violence on that street corner would, through their words and actions, be extended out across the city, especially to the known hot spots where guns have become the tool of choice in settling disputes.
“Our babies are dying, our teenagers are killing each other,” Dixon would say, adding that it is up to everyone gathered to show them that there is an alternative. “Our kids looking to us to stand up.”
“If kids don’t see anything good they are going to do what they see.”
Indeed this was the third week that Men Stand Up were out in the streets, and they aren’t going to stop, Dixon said, “until we feel like we are making a difference and saving lives.”
Also among the leaders of the effort is Casey Melvin who shared that he felt “upset and frustrated,” not just by the violence itself, but because of what seems like a lack of effort from the highest levels to do anything to stop it.
Black men are 10 times more likely to die from gun violence than their white counterparts, he shared, yet resources for community centers, places to treat trauma, and other initiatives that would actually make a lasting impact are scarce.
Like Dixon, Melvin will continue to be in the streets at least every week, because he knows that “when positivity makes itself known, negativity gets the hell out of here.”
“We need more love, knowledge, wisdom, understanding, opportunity,” he offered. “If we don’t get that, we’ll experience more violence.”
Pastor William Cash took his own turn at the microphone, delivering a powerful, if not for the words he used than certainly the energy behind them, call for unity among all that truly want violence to end. If someone got shot, he said, their ethnicity, race, religion they are doesn't matter. “We are talking about human beings.”
“It’s hitting Paterson two deaths a month,” he said, despite efforts of so many to turn lives around at an early age. “A gun is not your power,” Cash continued, seeming to direct his message to those that need to find a new path. “Real power is knowing who you are.”
His voice rising Cash, still seeking to reach the young men that have adopted violence, poured on the tough love saying, “your daddy might not have been there, you mommy might not have been there, but the truth of the matter is we all have a story.”
“Shooting another brother is not the answer, killing another Black man is not the answer,” he shouted, pointing to the KKK and different political people as already being “against” the community. “The last thing we need is for you to kill someone who looks like you,” he preached. “We need justice, we need peace.”
To be sure, it wasn’t just the men who spoke. Giving her own emotional plea for an end to the violence was Dellwanna Miller, whose own son, Jaleek L. Burroughs, was gunned down in 2014. His death, she said, came simply because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
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