Photos by macksmack staff
by Selena Williams
For Charlisse Coleman, it was an emotional moment. As the McClymonds junior took the stage slowly in DeFremery Park, she talked for the first time publicly about how her best friend was shot just as he was coming over to celebrate her 17th birthday.
“He was an innocent person and never did nothing to nobody,” said Coleman. The trauma of losing him — and the cycle of community violence that led to it –inspired Coleman to join Alternatives in Action’s YOLO, Youth Organizing & Leadership Opportunities, and to help organize a youth march from McClymonds High School to the park.
She and about 30 other students from West Oakland wore orange (for personal power) and blue (for truth) T-shirts and carried signs that said, “Hug A Thug” “Is Taking A Life Worth It?” and “Stop the Dysfunction.” Some students chanted “YOLO” and others responded, “You know.” They marched along with school board member Jumoke Hinton-Hodge, city council candidate Lynette McElhaney, parents and community members. Several hundred people had gathered at the park for the “Life is Living” festival.
The leadership program began during the summer as an internship program in West Oakland. “Our campaign will help bring our community together to make a better place for the youth,” said Coleman. “We can’t do this by ourselves.”
Another speaker, Dominic Albert, who attended McClymonds, was the master of ceremony and did turf dancing. He told the crowd to “stop the negative cycles” of drugs, violence and dysfunctional households. “We want to erase [them] from our community,” he said.
The rally launched a week of activities for the “It Stops With Me” campaign, including a dinner with community leaders, a candlelight vigil for family members lost to violence and an election forum.
“It stops with me and soon it will stop with us,” chanted Coleman.