We’ve all heard that it takes a village to raise a child. Still, there’s another African proverb about community: The child who is not embraced by the village will burn it down to feel its warmth.
To prevent more loss of life, a Christian community came together June 8 at Sunnyside Park on Bloomington’s west side to embrace its youth with a Stop The Violence Project street festival.
Ambassadors For Christ Ministries is a faith-based nonprofit that aims to reach inner-city youth where violence is most prevalent. The organization has planned a series of Stop The Violence Project street festivals throughout the summer to give youths alternative activities that promote involvement during idle times, teamwork, respect for authority, and leadership.
Apostle Jessie Bates, the Ambassadors For Christ Ministries advisor, said he was inspired to create the event after he became a Christian. Noticing the cycle of crime in Decatur and surrounding cities, Bates and his wife created the Stop The Violence Project to bring hope.
“I came out of an inner city where there was gang violence and drugs. At one point I was one of the largest drug dealers in Central Illinois for about 17 years and the last seven and a half years of that ended up with crack cocaine addiction,” he said.
“In 1990, God changed my life while I attended a church in Atlanta, Georgia, and put it on my heart to go back where I came from and give back to my community.”
Giving away prizes and free concessions, fun filled the atmosphere as children and organizations came together Saturday. One of the organizations, the Black Nurses Association of Central Illinois, provided blood pressure and blood sugar screenings along with health information to attendees.
State’s Attorney Don Knapp also attended the event in support of the anti-violence effort in McLean County.
“I believe anytime you can get a lot of members of the community together in a healthy, safe atmosphere it certainly can't hurt, right?” he said.
“This is the third year they've done this event, and I believe it’s very impactful,” Knapp added. “The kids are having fun and mingling with members of different service organizations and law enforcement organizations, and it's so nice to talk to people on a personal level and not just a professional level.”
Glenda Jackson, a minister and liaison for Stop The Violence Project, said the festival coming to Bloomington was much needed.
“It’s good to see everyone come together because you know, we're a village and we’re responsible for all of the children in our village,” Jackson said.
“There was an increase in violence last year and in the community where I live, on the east side of Bloomington, there’s been a lot of shootings recently, so with this event we hope to reach young people who are influenced by gangs, drug dealers, and touch their lives through our ministry,” Jackson said.
Stop The Violence Project volunteerLatonya Skinner agreed.
“I think this event lets the people who are committing these crimes know that our community stands together. And I believe it’s needed because it gives us an opportunity to speak and join arms with our law enforcement and big brothers of our community to say hey, if you see something that's out of order, make sure we bring it to the attention of those that can really do something but we as a collective we need to do something too,” she said.
In partnership with Midwest Food Bank, 500 boxes of groceries were given away to attendees.
Stop The Violence Project is based out Decatur but travels to four other Central Illinois cities including Bloomington, Springfield, Champaign and Peoria. To volunteer at next year's street festival, contact the organization through Facebook or email.
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