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Hundreds show support for CeaseFire

North Chicago-02/09/13 Sat./North Chicago High School BriannDuncan Waukegan sings for loss her brother Saturdays during CeaseFire rally North Chicago High

North Chicago-02/09/13, Sat./North Chicago High School Brianna Duncan, of Waukegan sings for the loss of her brother Saturdays during CeaseFire rally at North Chicago High School. | Joe Shuman~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: March 12, 2013 6:07AM

Nearly a year after Shawntrell Hayes, 29, was shot in the head and died in the parking lot of a fast food restaurant in Waukegan, his family took the stage at a Rally for Peace held at North Chicago High School.

“The testimony is that it still hurts,” said Barbara Young Howell, Hayes’ cousin. “The testimony is that he’s still not here. We have got to stop devaluing life. No mother should have to bury her child.”

The rally, sponsored by CeaseFire-North Chicago, drew several hundred people on Saturday for a program of live musical and spoken-word performances punctuated by speeches, poetry, and skits. But the most powerful moments came from the reflections of a handful of several area families among dozens who in recent years have lost loved ones to violence — victims who also included Shannon Marshall, 20, a cousin to Hayes, killed in a 2001 drive-by shooting in Waukegan; Philip O’Bryant, 23, a former honor student at NCHS, who was shot to death in 2011 while driving to a barber shop in North Chicago; and Kenny Hodge Jr., shot to death in North Chicago last year.

Darryl Hayes, another cousin to Shawntrell, said shooters are confusing fearlessness with courage.

“They’re not thinking through the finality of the act,” he said.

Rev. Clarence Evans, who helps oversee a staff of six as local program manager for CeaseFire — the anti-violence initiative that uses outreach workers to mediate conflicts between street gangs and to intervene to prevent retaliatory shootings and killings — said the rally was aimed at showing the community the importance of coming together.

“We’re tired of seeing people die,” Evans said. “We’re tired of seeing a community with a cancer of killing. We have to stop it and in order to do that, we have to come together as a community and CeaseFire’s efforts must be supported.”

State Rep. Rita Mayfield of Waukegan called for more state and local funding for CeaseFire, which was founded in 1995 by Dr. Gary Slutkin, an epidemiologist who argues that violence is a public health issue that can be prevented by changing norms of behavior.

Mayfield also urged cooperation with police.

“It’s not snitching if you save the life of a child, if you save the life of your neighbor,” Mayfield yelled to applause. “I can’t do another funeral. I can’t hold another mother in my arms as she cries because her child was murdered on our streets. It has to stop and it has to stop now.”

Lake County State’s Attorney Mike Nerheim reminded the crowd of a funeral being held Saturday for a gun-downed Chicago high school student and said he would ask for money to fight violence on a Monday trip to Washington D.C.

“Sadly, this happens all the time in our community,” Nerheim said. “I appreciate the efforts of CeaseFire. I don’t want to prosecute kids for shooting kids. I want to work with the community to help make this stop.”

Michael Wright, a 1998 NCHS graduate and a vocalist with the group Dirty Church Sox, which performed Marvin Gaye’s 1971 hit “What’s Going On,” said he and a growing number of North Chicagoans are willing to tackle the problem of violence, which he said has escalated due to a disconnect among residents.

“This is a movement and hopefully it will spark more adults and youth to get involved, especially in this high school,” Wright said. “CeaseFire is making us aware of what’s negative and bringing it to the forefront so we can change it.”

North Chicago Mayor Leon Rockingham, who noted that the City Council last year provided CeaseFire with $20,000 to keep the program going before state funding came through, said the large number of young people attending the rally was a positive sign.

“We don’t see CeaseFire (workers) at 2 and 3 a.m. when they’re really making a difference,” Rockingham said. “But we can see all the youth in this community, who need positive outlets for their talents and more opportunities.”

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