CAMDEN, NJ — Hundreds of guests flocked to Wiggins Waterfront Park on Thursday night to take part in Peace on the Streets 2019, one in a series of concerts aimed at promoting peace in local communities.
The free community event and resource fair was hosted by Power 99 FM and the Camden County Freeholder Board. The Philadelphia-based hip hop and R&B radio station helps bring the concerts together in different cities across the Delaware Valley as part of its 99 Days of Summer.
Guests could enjoy games, grab some food, and learn more about different civic organizations that set up tents on the walk to the park entrance. Along the water, area music acts DJ RL, Flipp Dinero, Angelica Vila, and Ayo215 provided the soundtrack for the evening.
Prior to the performances, John Solomon, co-founder of community group Endangered Kind, took to the stage to deliver a relevant message.
"How many of you know someone affected by gun violence?" Solomon asked the crowd.
Hands went up as attendees looked around.
As someone who was involved in gun violence as a teenager, Solomon said it's important to recognize that the people on both ends of the gun tend to be victims.
At about 11 years old, he witnessed one of his cousins gunned down in front of a high school. Another shooting occurred just blocks from his grandma's house.
"It was these specific events that I feel like robbed me of my innocence," Solomon said. "It killed my dreams."
Solomon said he felt worthless. He found himself joining the lifestyle with some guys down the street a couple of years later.
He was shot at age 15 and was in prison for a few months at age 17. An aggravated assault charge left him behind bars for five years.
Coming home and ready to turn his life around, Solomon made it his mission to build the community that at one point he destroyed. That's been his life for the past four years.
"I like to believe that many people labeled as shooters are victims before they become suspects. There's a lot of trauma that youth deal within the inner cities," he said.
Solomon said that everything has to be put into context in the discussion of gun violence. A question needs to be asked, he believes, of why a person would pick up a firearm and carry out something tragic.
In the fight against violence, Solomon hopes more young people become involved with an issue that so impacts them.
"We can have all the strategic plans, education, and experts, but nothing will progress until we have young people at the forefront of violence prevention," he said.