They marched with the faces of violent crime in Aiken County held high above them.
Pictures of Scotty Richardson, Sandy Rogers, De'Ante Darden, Joe Brown and many others were attached to signs and hoisted above a crowd of at least 50 people who marched on Saturday from the headquarters of Brothers and Sisters of Aiken County on York Street to the Smith-Hazel Recreation Center on Kershaw Street. Other signs read “Stop Violence,” “Make a Change” and “No more Gangs.”
They were marching as part of a “Stand with Our Children” rally to take a stand against violence, and to let people know there is a way to stop it.
“What we're trying to convey to our community is that we need to take it back,” said Charonica Pope, program coordinator of Brothers and Sisters. “People are getting killed for useless reasons – alcohol and drugs, gang violence where they're using guns and knives to hurt each other and domestic violence as well. It's time to take a stand.”
Brothers and Sisters provides a “structured place” for children between ages 5 and 17 to go in the afternoons after school to do homework as well as other positive activities.
Pope said Saturday's event was about the children.
“Maybe it will let them know, if you're having a problem or someone is approaching you in some way to get into a range or try to push off drugs, alcohol and things like that, they would look at not doing it,” she said. “We've got to show our kids more love. It's a self esteem thing – if you have low self esteem, then you start looking at other avenues to build that, and that's their way of showing love to each other, which is negative.”
Other youth organizations were invited to Saturday's event, including the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and Boys and Girls Club. Pope said she wanted to let parents know there are numerous organizations in which they can get their children involved. “The parents don't force their kids to be involved anymore,” she said. “They let them make the choices, and they need to stop that. When I was growing up, I wasn't allowed to say I'm not going to a program, I'm not going to church. I was told, 'You're going to church. You're going to school. You're gonna get an education, and you're gonna be involved in whatever's going on to keep your time and your mind occupied.'”
After arriving at Smith-Hazel, the group heard from some speakers, including Aiken City Councilwoman Gail Diggs, who read a quote she recently saw on Facebook: “It's not our job to toughen our children to face a cruel and heartless world. But it is our job to raise our children who will make the world a little less cruel and less heartless.”
She said she's been a longtime supporter of Brothers and Sisters and encouraged adults to look into volunteering.
“All of us have a responsibility. We all play a part,” she said. “These kids see us as role models, but they know we have expectations of them too. Today, I think it's meant to encourage these kids to do and be the best they can be. If they want to see more positive in this community, they've got to be part of it.”
Anne Highley was marching Saturday along with her young nephew.
“My godson Marquez Tyler and my cousin Moses Williams were both killed violently,” she said while walking and holding a picture of Williams. “I want our youth to be aware that we have a problem in Aiken County, and violence doesn't solve anything.”
• Teddy Kulmala covers the crime beat for the Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since August 2012. He is a native of Williston and majored in communication studies at Clemson University.