Richmond holds first National Gun Violence Community Remembrance Day

Richmond holds first National Gun Violence Community Remembrance Day
Richmond held its first National Gun Violence Community Remembrance Day in the Richmond Civic Center on Friday, June 8, 2024. Photo/Soren Hemmila

Richmond held its first National Gun Violence Community Remembrance Day Friday evening to recognize the lives lost to gun violence and work together to end gun violence in the city.

The event held in the Richmond Civic Center highlighted the contributions of several key community partners addressing gun violence in Richmond.

Keycha Gallon, Executive Director of Keyz 2 the Future, recounted her own experiences as a gun violence survivor. She spoke about the impact of losing her brother and founding a nonprofit.

“I lost my brother to gun violence. As a sister, it was hard. It was even harder to see that when I lost my brother, I lost my mother as well,” Gallon said. “Because she never fully recovered from the impact of losing my brother.”

Gallon started her nonprofit organization Keys 2 the Future to support young girls affected by gun violence and address a gap in services.

“When I lost my brother, I found that it wasn’t a lot of programs that actually helped the females,” Gallon said.

Richmond Police Department Chaplain Dewanda Stewart-Joseph, who started Ya-Neema Healing Circle and Support Services, shared her motivations rooted in personal loss and the lack of available support services.

“I studied trauma-informed care in order to be able to help my community and my family to start. Because when I looked for services, there were none readily available for us in this community,” Stewart-Joseph said. “When I called for services and we got an appointment, no one showed up.”

Ya-Neema, which means by God’s grace, has met regularly for the last ten years to support each other, overcome trauma, and prevent it from getting passed down through generations.

“We’re going to ask the city and challenge the city to step it up,” Stewart-Joseph said. “We don’t need to come out here every year and start memorializing, we need to create some new memories. This is not a war-torn community; we are a people full of love and compassion for one another.”

Community organizer Elana Bolds, founder of Visions of Hope Outreach, known in the community as the “funeral singer,” highlighted the importance of showing compassion and protecting the younger generation from the impact of violence.
“I would help raise these babies and work in the school department and work in my community, do the talent shows, and do Put the Guns Down, and when they would get murdered, I would go sing for them.”

Bolds said people are too separated and need to show more compassion for one another.

“We are so busy fighting each other we are not looking at the kids. We are not protecting the kids,” Bolds said.

Crime Prevention Manager Michelle Milam shared her experience responding to incidents of gun violence and called for investment in the community to prevent future tragedies.

“I’m tired of candlelight vigils,” Milam said. “Please forgive me. I want to go to a graduation, I want to see someone start their own business, I want to go to a baby shower. I do not want to stand on another street corner and watch another one of our most brilliant and precious resources be remembered and memorialized there.”

Milam said that the lives that were lost are not lost if we do something about it.

“If we take that energy and continue to move forward, they did not die in vain,” Milam said. “That is what I want from my community. That is what I want for the loved ones who I lost to gun violence.”

Joseph Alexander’s son, Joseph Alexander, known as Bunk, was murdered on April 19, 2018, in Richmond near Carlson Boulevard. Since then, Alexander has been active in the community, spreading awareness about gun violence and honoring his son’s memory.
Alexander appreciates having the event in Richmond, as he usually has to attend similar events outside the area.
“Having this here in town is great,” Alexander said. “In the future, I’d like to see more participation from our community because everyone has been touched by gun violence in some way or another.”

Richmond Poet Laureate Steven Sharpe shared his personal experiences with gun violence. Sharpe lost his nephew in 2022 and a close friend during his college years. He emphasized the importance of living fully and trying to improve the world in memory of those lost.

“Back when I was still in college, I lost one of my really good friends, Canon Jones,” Sharpe said. “We had promised not to let him down. We had promised to carry our brother to that hearse no matter how much it hurt. We didn’t let him down. We still hold that promise and the one not to become a statistic. Instead, we became college graduates, admission counselors, managers, preachers, entrepreneurs, and community leaders.”

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