A few minutes after the youth rally against violence began today, a swift rain descended upon about 100 participating students and community members, who started by marching down Moore Street in support of the cause.
Although carrying paper signs, the heavy raindrops didn't stop the students from continuing the march to educate the city about peace through the event organized by the Toledo Youth Service Commission and the Coalition for Hope.
Just as quickly as it started, the weather for the walk cleared up. But it apparently wouldn't have mattered.
“...It's not gonna stop us,” Rosalinda Contreraz-Harris, acting executive director with the City of Toledo Youth Commission, said.
“This is something that the youth stressed that needs to happen. This is the opportunity to actually say what's on their mind and that peace matters to them as well.”
She said the students asked for the rally again, which is in its second year. Last week, Mayor Michael Bell held a state of the youth address, where students had the opportunity to talk about violence in their neighborhoods.
Mayor Bell spoke before today's march, to let participants know that he supported them.
“You all know this is all about you. It's important that we do this,” he said. “This is all about positive stuff.”
For Kristen Hawkins, 11, a student at Grove Patterson Academy, emphasizing the positive aspects of the city was at the heart of her participation.
“We're trying to stop the violence in the community --- to build it up, not tear it down.” Miss Hawkins said. She was tasked with using a megaphone during the walk, by leading several chants.
During the march, participants danced and chanting resounded. The sound of drums echoing throughout the street was enough to draw residents out of their Moore Street and Elm Street homes. The students turned on Elm Street and took East Central Avenue up to Woodward High School during the 30-minute rally.
With a message to end gun violence, many participants also displayed handcrafted signs, like one that read “Honk for Peace.”
For 15-year-old Joseph Fields, a Woodward High School student, attending the rally also meant talking about the things students are hearing about on a daily basis.
“There's a lot of violence,” he said, adding that the event is crucial because “people listen to kids.” During the march, he held up a bright orange sign with the message to “stop the violence.”
In 2012, 199 people were shot in Toledo, slightly down from 210 people shot in the city in 2011. Police reported taking 988 guns off the streets in 2012.
Another student said talk about gang violence is a common theme in conversation.
“I'm not seeing it, but I just hear so much. It grows bigger and bigger,” Jordan Carter, 14, who attends Leverette Elementary, said.
Ms. Contreraz-Harris said the event drew students from many different parts of town, including those from the Frederick Douglass Community Center, the Youth Opportunities Program, Woodward High School and several other area schools. She said it gives the students the unique opportunity to band together to create change and build a cohesive community.
“You have youth from all over Toledo coming together, saying, '“This is our city. We want our city safe,”' she said.
Contact Kelly McLendon at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6522 or on Twitter @KMcBlade.