By MARC MONAGHAN
Ward festivals usually are pretty predictable events.
Hot dogs are grilled; a deejay or a band provides music; politicians greet their constituents service agencies answer questions; kids get a haircut; seniors get their blood pressure checked and anyone who has the desire can get a dental screening, all for free.
Last Saturday’s 4th Ward 2019 Summer Festival at Dyett School had all this and something else, something out of the ordinary – a “Peace Summit.”
Hyde Park’s Grammy-Award nominated rapper, singer and song writer Vic Mensa headlined the Peace Summit, but the show didn’t belong to just him. It belonged to a panel of community activists and a group of Dyett High School students.
“When we hear about gun violence happening in our communities, sometimes the community is in shock, some of us are desensitized, some people say there is no hope,” said moderator Chakena Sims as she asked panelist, educator and YAN executive director LaTonya Nelson Jarrett to tell her “journey of forgiveness.”
“My sister, Yvonne Annette Nelson (YAN essentially), was leaving Starbucks one afternoon while she got off work. As she was exiting, she was shot, killed immediately,” said Jarrett. “As you can imagine the family was devastated. She was my best friend, not only my sister.”
“One of the things my family, my parents have always raised us on is taking a tragedy and turning it into triumph,” continued Jarrett. “So, we started the YAN Foundation … We started it as a way to say we forgive.”
“He [Nelson’s killer] had experienced trauma in his family, but as you know, sometimes in the black community, sometimes when we experience trauma, we are taught to suck it up, to deal with it, we are not allowed to process it.
“He wasn’t a terrible person. He was just misguided; he needed some guidance.’
Relating the story of his big brother’s killing, Vic Mensa said, “I have a song that’s called ‘Heaven on Earth.’ In this song I take the perspective of my big brother who was killed, and I also take the perspective of his killer.”
“In the first verse is me writing a letter to Cam who died from gun violence on 79th and Stony. The second verse is his perspective coming to me,” said Mensa. “In the third verse, I come from his killer’s perspective, and I try to humanize his killer.”
“And I think, maybe his killer just had a baby, you know. Maybe he just had a child. Maybe he’s desperate or hungry, thirsty. And maybe this set up that happened that ended up with someone who was very close to me being murdered, wasn’t supposed to go down like that. You know.
“So, I imagined that, and I thought about his killer feeling feelings of remorse and his killer feeling scared himself in that situation, cause that’s the reality of this s**t.
“And, ah, you know, putting an empathetic perspective to somebody that killed my big brother, it allowed me release so much of that pain and hatred.”
Turning to the group of Dyett School students, moderator Sims asked about healing in the age of social media.
“When it comes to things like social media, it’s just an all-around toxic environment,” said one Dyett High School student.
“When someone dies, all of a sudden people care,” the student continued. “Like a person would die from a police officer they get a bunch of shares. Somebody gets killed of their own skin color, their own brother that they knew down the street, when they was younger, but some feud has caused them to break apart. And all of a sudden, they’re beefing, and they get killed. And there really is not an eye batted in that situation.
“For me personally, my personal experience is my cousin, he was nine years old, he died in 2014. He was shot.
“He was shot and killed because these gangsters. They were supposed to be getting initiated, so they had to catch a body. So they killed my little cousin.
“He was just in the backyard bleeding out. My cousin was just sitting there bleeding out.
“The police didn’t come, so when they came, he was gone. And it kinda struck something in me.
“And through all this, this entire stanza of this situation, you go on social media and all of a sudden the police are on it. They are posting it on social media, these community leaders are getting involved. They are doing this campaign ‘Justice for Antonio’ and all of these people got behind it, but it was a positive movement in social media.
“I feel like social media should be used as a platform to support positivity and posterity for all people, instead of just, just a place for gettin’ on. That’s my take on it,” concluded the student.