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Parents Against Gun Violence March June 27
6/17/2015 2:57:44 PM

(l-r) Heather Pringle, Andrea Bradley-Lesston, Tamika Meyers, Monica Jefferson & Melody Gaddis-McFadden. Mothers and family members hold photos of lost loved ones at Parents Against Gun Violence meeting at Empowerment Baptist Church June 11, 2015. Photo: Tolbert Smalls, Jr.
By Tolbert Smalls, Jr.

Lawmakers in South Carolina declared June as Gun Violence Awareness Month in an effort to call attention to the senseless violence in our communities. Pastor Thomas Ravenell of the Empowerment Baptist Church in North Charleston has planned a Parents Against Gun Violence March on June 27 to bring the message closer to home.

"The purpose of this march is to raise awareness of gun violence in our community. This is a serious problem all over the country and something needs to be done to get these guns off the streets," said Ravenell.

One issue Ravenell thought could make a difference is demanding tougher gun laws. "It's too easy to get a gun in South Carolina. We need a stricter system in place with mandatory sentencing for violators that are in illegal possession of firearms," he said.

Ravenell meets with mothers of victims statewide once a week to help them cope with their loss. "At the end of the day, this is about the mothers who have lost loved ones from gun violence. We don't want any more mothers to go through that pain," said Ravenell.

Heather Pringle knows that feeling all too well. Her son Dontae Pringle was gunned down at a gas station on July 14, 2013. "Everyday I live with the fact that my son was killed over nothing. He was only 21 years old and didn't deserve to die," she said.

Two of the men involved in his death are now dead. "I feel for their mothers. Unfortunately in our community the street life gets you in either the grave or prison," Pringle said. She has another son that's in prison. "I'm ashamed to say this but prison actually saved my son's life. If he was on the streets he could end up dead."

Another mother, Tamika Meyers, is committed to doing everything she can to save the life of another child. Her daughter Sierra Denise Truesdale was killed while celebrating her 23rd birthday at the Starlight Lounge outside of St. George when shots were fired into a crowd by gang members. The shooting happened the same night that Pringle was killed.

"My daughter was an innocent bystander that got caught in a crossfire. I have seen violence happen in our community over and over again but it did not affect me until it happened to my child," Meyers said.

When asked what this march meant to her Meyers said it was about saving the lives of our young people."I want to be a part of this movement to empower others and put an end to this senseless violence. I made a promise to my daughter that her life will not be in vain and I will not stop until we find some resolution. My voice will be heard."

"These kids don't understand the pain they cause a family when they take someones' life," said Lisa Doctor. 21 year old Solomon Ancrum was found shot to death in a car off Highway 17 in a wooded area in Mount Pleasant on October 20, 2013. Doctor brought him into her home and he lived with her in the five years prior. "Although I'm not his biological mother, he was like a son to me. I remember calling him that morning and he said he was coming home but never showed up," she said.

Doctor said she has been fighting alongside other mothers for years to stop the violence. "As mothers we have a sisterhood that gives us strength to keep fighting for our kids. We count on one another to get through the tough days. The pain and hurt doesn't go away. I encourage all mothers to do something about the violence before it's too late. Don't wait until someone comes knocking on your door to get involved."

Andrea Bradley-Lesston would like to see the community come together to find justice and peace. On October 21, 2014, her son, Jerome Bradley, was fatally shot in the neck around 10:00 a.m. on Hassell Street in the Liberty Hill neighborhood. "When you kill a child you kill a whole family. We as a community need to speak the truth and come forward with information to help police solve these crimes," she said.

Bradley-Lesston mentioned that she has four other sons that are potential targets in the community. "Everyday I'm in the streets making sure these kids stay out of trouble. People around here know me as the crazy grandma because they know that if I see them doing something wrong they'll have to deal with me. I'm sick and tired of all this killing."

Melody Gaddis-McFadden of Greenville, South Carolina travels to Charleston to meet with other mothers to be a part of this movement. Her niece, 22 year old Sandy Gaddis-Barnwell, was killed on May 25, 2014 at the annual Black Bike Week Rally at Bermuda Sands Hotel in Myrtle Beach. Devonte Dantzler, 21, of Summerville and Jamie Williams, 28, of Ladson were also killed in the shooting.

Gaddis-McFadden hopes that others will take notice and join them in the fight against violence. "There were hundreds of people around who saw what happened to Sandy but no one will come forward with any information. It's not fair that they took her voice away but I will continue to be her voice. I will not let them forget her name and what happened to her until justice is served," Gaddis-McFadden said. "We may not be able to save the whole community, but if we can save one life, we accomplished something."

One mother, Monica Jefferson, hopes to bring something positive out of her son's death. On October 8, 2013 just after midnight, Malcolm Jefferson was slain on his 18th birthday. His murder remains unsolved.

Jefferson lives with the pain of the loss of her son everyday. "There are people out there with the information who know the perpetrators but no one wants to talk. They don't want to be a target and known as a snitch," she said.

She noted that there is so much more our kids could be doing with their lives instead of destroying their own. "We need to get our kids educated and get them off the streets in a positive environment. When a young person kills another, two lives are lost," said Jefferson.

Pastor Ravenell commends the mothers for their strength as they continue to fight the battle to save our children and welcomes anyone who would like to join the Empowerment Baptist Church in this movement. They have started a petition seeking 10,000 signatures that will be submitted to Governor Nikki Haley and Attorney General Loretta Lynch asking for a task force to investigate where the guns are coming from. "We are committed to doing whatever we can to make our neighborhoods safer. It's time for us to take it to the streets and take back our community."

The Parents Against Violence March is set for Saturday June 27, 2015 at 12:00 p.m. It will start at 1750 Remount Road in North Charleston. Attendees are asked to arrive at 11:30 a.m. If you have any questions regarding the march or would like to participate with the Parents Against Violence program at the Empowerment Baptist Church, call Pastor Thomas Ravenell at 843-708-2346.

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