by Jen Pauliukonis ::
When I first heard about the idea to declare a ceasefire in Baltimore and simply to ask people to stop killing one another, I was admittedly dismissive. I checked myself pretty quickly and wondered how I had become so cynical in this fight to reduce gun violence. So instead of continuing with a snap judgment, I started looking into exactly what the organizers had in mind. What they envisioned was beyond honorable and powerful.
The six women, led by Erricka Bridgeford and Ellen Gee, wanted everyone in Baltimore to take the Baltimore Peace Challenge and hold a ceasefire for 72 hours the first weekend in August. It is such a reasonable request, and yet they had an uphill battle to spread their message.
Instead of offering cynicism, MPGV decided to offer our support. The weekend was really about a moment of healing, so I tried to think of a way to honor that mission. I reached out to Ms. Bridgeford to see how we could be of most assistance that weekend and suggested the idea of a Peace and Healing Walk.
Once we had the blessing of the organizers, we were off and running. We very quickly partnered with Mothers of Murdered Sons and Daughters and local chapters of Alpha Kappa Alpha. They had already started planning an idea very similar, so we joined forces and reached out to Rev. Canon Slater of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland. Rev. Slater has conducted 13 prayer walks honoring gun violence victims over the last 2 years.
We chose to start the Peace and Healing Walk near Mondawmin Mall and Frederick Douglass High School, which was the epicenter for the uprising in Baltimore following the murder of Freddie Gray by police officers. The killings following the uprising have only continued to grow and have infected community after community.
We created a walking route based on a map of shooting homicides near the school. The route took us a little over two miles and to 10 different shooting death sites. At each stop, Rev. Slater said a brief prayer and we all said their names: Ernest Soloman. Donta Culp. Maryus Smith. Tre’quan Mullock. Ricardo Josey. Brandon Anderson. Davonte Jackson. George Thompson. Troy Horton. Antonio Madeam.
We were not expecting the outpouring of support once we announced the event. What we hoped would be at least 50 people turned into over 200. The emotion was something different than what I have felt before at other prayer walks and vigils and marches in the city.
The organizers of the Ceasefire weekend have brought hope and a sense of empowerment to Baltimore. People talked about how they want more for their city. They talked about being tired of the memorials and funerals. They talked about feeling numb to the violence for too long, and now they feel awake. Everyone understood that this weekend was not the end goal, but one step forward towards lasting peace and prosperity for their city.
We were honored to be a part of the weekend events and contribute some small piece to the mission of the Baltimore Peace Challenge. And we continue to build relationships with the organizers, survivor groups, and institutions in Baltimore so the momentum can continue.
Ceasefire Weekend has transformed into Ceasefire 365. They are not stopping and neither are we. The next step is a follow-up forum at Baltimore City Community College in September to start educating the public on how gun violence is a public health epidemic and the solutions to slow its spread.
While the weekend was not homicide-free (there were two gun homicides on Saturday evening), it was a huge step forward for Baltimore. I attended a follow-up meeting last night and it was standing room only, with some folks having to stand outside. The quest for peace has only just begun.