About 150 young people marched through the Old West End Thursday evening to denounce the gang violence plaguing the city and offer a more positive and hopeful message about Toledo's youths.
Starting at the corner of Delaware and Lawrence avenues, the youths marched to the beat of drums until they reached Scott High School about half a mile away.
Chanting, "I can make a change. I got the power," and holding signs with messages including "Stop the violence" and "How many more have to die?," the participating youths from schools and programs throughout the city followed behind the Scott High School marching band, accompanied by local educators, community leaders, and city officials.
All the youths seemed to have a story to tell about how violence has affected their lives. Some told of friends and family members who have been shot; others, of fights they have witnessed in their neighborhoods and schools.
Many said they are fearful to walk down their own street.
"It's scary," said Gianna Rodriguez, 13, who lives in East Toledo. "I'm afraid one of these days I might get shot or someone might take me. It's bad out here."
"I always worry about my little brother, all my family, every second they're not in my sight," said 15-year-old Maia Colvin, who recounted how her cousin's father was shot dead two months ago, leaving behind two young children. "Life is too short for all this nonsense. People need to get along."
Organized by Mayor Mike Bell's Coalition for Hope and the city's Office for Youth Services, the rally aimed to show the city's young people in a more positive light and let residents know most youths are against crime and want to help stop it. The idea for the rally grew out of a youth summit held by the city earlier this year in which many young participants voiced frustration with how their generation is perceived, officials said.
"This is a chance to say hey, they're taking back their community. Not all of us are doing crazy stuff out there," said Rosalinda Contreraz-Harris, acting Youth Commission director. "It's to give them the opportunity to actually talk about violence, to show they're willing to work with the community to improve it."
Mayor Bell, who addressed the marchers at the beginning and end of the rally, thanked them for their efforts and offered words of encouragement.
"We're going to turn this city around," he said. "I just need you not to quit."
The mayor said he wants young people to know the city cares about them and wants to help them.
"We want to keep focusing on them, keep paying attention to them, and hopefully we can stop the violence," he said. "All we can do is keep trying."
Watching from a distance, 43-year-old Raymond Gibson said he hoped the march would have the intended effect. A father of three, Mr. Gibson said he worries about his children when they are out in his West Toledo neighborhood.
"When I was growing up, [kids] fought. Now, they shoot," Mr. Gibson said. "That's a big difference. Before, all you'd get is a black eye."
He said the city needs to have more job programs to help keep young people occupied.
Charlene Jackson, 33, who recently moved to Toledo from California, said she was impressed by the marchers filing past her house on West Delaware Ave.
"Very inspirational," she said. "You need more people to do more rallies like that. Not just here, everywhere."
Contact Claudia Boyd-Barrett at email@example.com or 419-724-6272.