Wearing multiple layers of clothing and a warm hat and gloves to fight off the cold, Florence Moyer was one of an estimated 150 people who took part in the Stop the Violence walk in Sandy Level on Monday morning.
Moyer’s granddaughter Veronitique Niblett and Veronitique’s friend Precious Mitchell, both 15, also took part in the estimated 11?2- to- two-mile walk on Axton Road.
All three, and several other walkers, said they were participating to advocate nonviolence and to honor the memory of slain civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Monday was Martin Luther King Day.
Moyer lives in Martinsville and is member of St. John Baptist Church, which was the base for the third annual Stop the Violence Walk. Many participants parked their vehicles at St. John and were shuttled to the starting point for the walk. A program was held at the church after the walk.
Moyer said she has taken part in the walk every year and during that time “the violence has ceased.”
Garrett Dillard, organizer of the event and principal of Bassett High School, provided a list of 27 citizens of the Sandy Level area who lost their lives due to violence in the last 30 years or so, and there may be others not on the list, Dillard said.
“My brother was the last one killed,” Dillard said. According to Garrett Dillard and a Bulletin article, Glen Dillard died after being shot in his home in Sandy Level in December 2010.
“There have been no more deaths (due to violence) since 2010,” Garrett Dillard said.
Henry County Sheriff Lane Perry said during his career in law enforcement in Henry County there has been “a drastic change in this community.” For years there was open drug dealing and crimes of violence, including murder, but now it is a peaceful area, he said.
He attributed the transformation to law enforcement and the community working together to address the problem.
“Citizens of Sandy Level have gotten together to take back the community. It’s a beautiful, decent, good place to live,” said Joe Louis Hairston of Axton, who retired from the Henry County Sheriff’s Office in 2009.
Among those he praised for transforming the community were Garrett Dillard and the Rev. Dr. Green Moore, pastor of St. John.
Curtis Millner, who represents the Iriswood District on the Henry County School Board, said he has had connections to the Sandy Level community for several decades. During that time, at first there was an increase in violence due to drugs, but in recent years there has been a decrease in violence due to public awareness and efforts to stop the violence and drug business, he said. He also noted a smaller percentage of children are dropping out of school.
Brandon Hairston of Axton cited the need to remember the legacy of Dr. King, the need for nonviolence and the need to “let young people know there is more to life than partying and glitter life.” He said a friend of his, A.J. Murphy, was one of people from Sandy Level who lost their lives due to violence.
At times, participants in the walk chanted “stop the violence,” “silence the violence” and “keep the peace.” Also, portions of speeches by King, including his “I Have a Dream” and “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speeches, were played close together with portions of speeches by Barack Obama, this country’s first African-American president who was publicly sworn in to a second term on Monday.
After the walk, an estimated 250-300 people, including walkers, attended a program at St. John. The program was, at various times, inspirational, solemn, informative and challenging. It also offered times of recognition.
The program’s “Talent Display” featured singers Earlene Dillard, Bobby Hampton, Brandon Perkins, Dionna Moyer, Deante’ Keen, Ciara Dillard?Deajah Hairston (duet), Michelle Johnson-Epps and Gospel Light Sanctuary Choir; St. John’s youth praise dance team; and Angela Dillard-Wilson, who read a poem about “A change is gonna come.”
Next, 14 family members came forward as the names of the 27 citizens of the Sandy Level area who lost their lives due to violence were read. A moment of silence was held.
That was followed by Darrell Hairston announcing that 100 guns have been taken off the streets through a gun buy-back program. He and Garrett Dillard, who grew up together in Axton, created a foundation in 2011 to fund a gun buy-back program in Henry County, according to a Bulletin article.
Hairston also gave tips for success to students, as well as tips to parents for successful parenting.
He presented certificates of recognition to about 50 youths.
Speaker Kerry Fountain urged attendees to change their economic futures by upgrading their skills and educations. Among the resources he recommended were the websites udacity.com and coursera.com.
Near the end of the program, attendees read and signed a pledge espousing such things as nonviolence, reconciliation, respect for self and others, attending church and living out God’s word, and refraining from drugs and alcohol abuse.
The theme of the day’s event was “Let Your Light Shine,” and Rev. Moore concluded the program with a “special prayer to let light shine.”
A lunch followed at the church.