- Faith & Family
A generation ago, businesses and churches thrived in Liberty City. There were beauty and barber shops, grocery stores and children playing without a care in the streets. But those days have since passed — replaced by abandoned buildings, drug sales on corners and the crumbled bodies of young Black men. But it doesn’t have to be that way, according to a group of parents, business owners, elected officials and police officers, many of whom grew up in Liberty City. They gathered on NW 68th Street and 18th Avenue [Broadway Ave.] last Monday as part of a nationwide campaign to get illegal guns off the streets. Included in the coalition were several mothers whose sons were murdered. Several were on their way to Washington, D.C. to join more than 120 survivors and family members as part of the Mayors Against Illegal Guns Demand a Plan Campaign.
Activist Queen Brown, 53, has helped support other mothers since her son, Eviton Brown, 24, was murdered on his way home from school. The case remains unsolved.
“This is where I grew up — it was our own shopping mall in the 60s,” she said. “But after the riots things started to change. If we want to end the violence we have to be willing to go where that violence is happening. That’s right here on these streets. If you talk to the residents they say they want to help put an end to the killings and the shootings. The key is partnering with them — not trying to tell them what to do from safe spaces in other parts of town. But it’s not just Liberty City. I live in Miami Gardens now and the bodies of young people are piling up like road kill.”
Karen Gardner lost her son, Herbert Gross III, 27, married and with children, at the hands of a 19-year-old Black youth because of mistaken identity. Denise Brown, 53, lost her son Roman Bradley, 20, to gun violence. He was sitting in a car with his friend Jaquevin Myles, 19, who was also killed. Renee Jones’s son, Trevin Reddick, 19, was shot in the head and remained on life support for two weeks. His family then donated his organs so others could live.
But the list goes on.
Time to get involved
Business owner Cuthbert Harewood, 50, owns 12 buildings along 18th Avenue. He says he remains because this is the only community he has ever known.
“I grew up right around the corner and my roots are here,” he said. “I don’t know of a better place to live. Why do Blacks keep running to South Beach for fun when they don’t want us there in the first place? Why can’t we make our own communities safe and fun? I’ve lost two family members to gun violence recently and also had a friend and his two sons shot — the oldest boy died. We have to put the light on this violence and start taking back our community one block-at-a-time. That’s what we’ve done here. This community is salvageable if we all get involved.”
School board member Dr. Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall says there is a rich history that should not be forgotten.
“There are so many young people whose lives ended tragically on these streets,” she said. “We cannot forget them. Nor can we allow violence to destroy this community. I grew up in public housing and someone saw something in me. I was given a chance to succeed. At times I feel like no one is listening but if we can save just one child we would have made a difference — a real difference.”
In the recent gun buyback program, the City of Miami Police Department collected over 400 guns. The next initiative, according to spokesperson Pat Santangelo, will be gun locks.
“Speeches and marches don’t work — it takes people coming out like this to show criminals that they’ve had enough and want their communities back,” he said.
“We have a lot of resources at our disposal but we need people to call us when they witness any illegal actions,” said Major Gary Jeanniton, M-D Police Dept., Northside District. “We are committed to reducing crime but we need everyone’s help. People can call 471-TIPS if they want to remain anonymous and they can get a reward.”
Entrepreneur Ray Parris, 40, works with young children as part of Parafruit Education, along the same block that the activists say they have taken back. His father was a victim of gun violence but he says he is committed because someone cared about him.
“I’ve been helping kids learn about computers and art and other hands-on skills because when I was in school and not sure what I was going to do, someone took time with me,” he said. “They changed the direction of my life. We have kids from Liberty City, Miami Gardens and Miramar. They all have dreams. But they have to live to see them come true.”
By D. Kevin McNeir