AUSTIN — The Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network brought together city residents Wednesday to discuss how they can help young Chicagoans escape the street trappings that can lead to them becoming crime victims or offenders.
Mary Long was one of the people who attended the event at New Mt. Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church, 4301 W. Washington Blvd. Her only child, Eric Williams, was gunned down on March 12, 2012, while on his way to do some volunteer work in Grand Crossing, she said.
"Eric lost his life at the hands of a coward with a gun," she said. "He was a 25-year-old man with a great future ahead of him and now that is all gone."
About 75 people attended the event in Chicago, and similar events were held in New York, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Birmingham, Ala., and Washington, D.C.
Wednesday also marked the third anniversary of the shooting of former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who is still recovering from her injuries.
Sharpton himself did not attend the Chicago event, which brought together local religious and community leaders to discuss how to reduce city violence.
Shootings are not just happening in Chicago but all across the state, said Tio Hardiman, an anti-violence advocate and gubernatorial candidate.
"My proposal to help reduce gun violence will include creating more jobs for troubled youth and ex-offenders," Hardiman said. "Way too many African-American youths are killed in Illinois and we have to do a better job in regards to stopping the shootings before they occur."
Other people who chimed in on potential solutions included Long, the Rev. Darius Randle; the Rev. Walter Jones; the Rev. Luther Mason, Joseph Skipbert, Corey Hardiman and Keniece Jones.
Corey Hardiman, a 22-year-old senior at Morehouse College in Atlanta, said if young people do not see positive role models in their neighborhoods or hear positive lyrics sung by rappers then it's hard for many of them to stay positive.
"We need active role models in our lives all the time and Chief Keef is not it," said Corey Hardiman, who grew up in Roseland. "I'm not saying all rap is bad because it's not. But if rappers could rap about some positive things happening in their community I am sure youths would catch on fast."
Another young speaker, Jones, agreed that music plays a big role in the actions of young people.
"Rap music gives kids a reason to kill," she said. "Alternatively, we need more places to go after school and on weekends other than the streets."
A short film was also shown to the audience, which showed the daily drama teens face, and how quickly thing can turn violent.
"On 2nd Thought" is based on a true story that happened in Boston, involving a love triangle that leads to a murder.
Jones, founder and executive director nonprofit Fathers Who Care, said stories like these show the need for mentors in at-risk communities.
"My organization is in West Garfield Park and we do things differently there. West Garfield is not Austin, North Lawndale or Englewood. It is a community filled with people who care about young folks," he said. "Our male mentors are always working to keep our youths away from the dangers of the streets."