HARLEM—They marched from the building on East 128th Street where 17-year-old Cheyenne Baez was the innocent victim of a shooting in October.
Led by her mother Lisa Baez, the crowd carried signs with pictures of Cheyenne, arriving at the plaza of the state office building on 125th Street chanting: "Put down the gun, pick up a book."
Waiting for them Tuesday night were hundreds of other young people who were part of what was being billed as 'Harlem's Day of Healing.'
"I feel like the community is coming together to make a change," said Baez.
Organized by several groups dedicated to ending gun violence such as Street Corner Resources, Harlem Mothers S.A.V.E. and Perfect Peace Ministries, the goal was to make young people aware that they don't have to turn to violence to solve their problems or gain respect.
"Let's take back our community starting today," said Jackie Rowe-Adams, co-founder of Harlem Mothers S.A.V.E. (Stop Another Violent End).
Cheyenne died in October, the innocent victim of a gunman who walked into the courtyard of her mother's home on East 128th Street at Lexington Avenue and opened fire.
A performer, who gave her name as "It's Ya Girl Nicolette," 16, said the violence seemed inescapable at times. Before performing a rap with a positive anti-violence message, she described how she had been touched by gun violence.
"Three days ago, one of my friends got shot in the face. We have to stop the violence," said Nicolette, one of many groups to perform.
Members of Operation SNUG, who try to interrupt disputes before they are settled with guns, performed a skit to show how quickly a simple argument could turn to violence. It ended with one of their members pretending to lay shot dead on the stage.
"In the past week we've had a minimum of six shootings. These are 16 and 17-year-olds killing each other over nothing, over Facebook," said Karim Chapman, 31, a SNUG outreach worker supervisor.
Carlos Rodriguez, 21, Cheyenne Baez's cousin, said he was surprised to see so many young people step up to the plate.
"I thought Cheyenne's death would wake the community up but young people are not learning. We just lost Tysha," he said.
Tysha Jones, 16, was killed on the boardwalk in Brighton Beach in June when a gunman opened fire after an argument. Cheyenne Baez and Jones were friends who lived blocks apart and performed in the same dance group.
"Events like this are what's going to help to spread the word," said Rodriguez.
Speaker after speaker said that young people had a choice in whether or not to participate in violence. They could instead become ambassadors of peace in their own neighborhood, they said.
"You are making a powerful statement against youth violence," said the Rev. Vernon Williams of Perfect Peace Ministry who spends many nights in the street trying to prevent violence. "Your being here says you have had enough."
Robin Holmes, project director for Operation SNUG, said violence has become the norm.
"We have to change the norm. We have to change our thinking. It doesn't require us to pick up a gun to solve our problems," said Holmes.
The solution, said minister Al Taylor of Man Up! in Harlem, is for young people to claim ownership of the problem and then take the steps to solve it.
"You have the power," said Taylor "Don't wait for anyone to tell you what you can and cannot do in your community.