Washington, DC—(ENEWSPF)—September 16, 2013. Congresswoman Robin Kelly announced today that she is bringing 11 Chicago parents of gun violence victims to Washington D.C. to highlight the problem of urban gun violence to federal lawmakers and to advocate for commonsense gun control legislation. The parents will be joining her and members of the Newtown Action Alliance in their advocacy efforts on September 17 and 18 on Capitol Hill. Together, they hope to restart the push for sensible gun laws.
“This is the first time that urban families have been included in the broader conversation about gun violence in America,” Kelly said. “Rather than treating our concerns as separate, we are joining with the Newtown families to show that our stories and struggles are alike. Two hundred and seventy children have been killed by guns in Chicago since 2007. The voices of Chicago parents need to be heard. Every child deserves to grow up free of the fear of gun violence. And we won’t rest until this is reality – for every child.”
Shundra and LesJuan Robinson (Parents of Deno Wooldridge, 18)
Shundra Robinson’s son, Deno Wooldridge, 18, was killed on October 18, 2010 while standing on his grandmother’s porch on the South Side of Chicago. Wooldridge was 9 years old when his father was murdered and was 1 years old when his father’s twin brother was murdered. Deno was Shundra Robinson’s only son. Shundra is now active in Radical End Time Ministries International, Inc., which ministers to young people and is active in the stop-the-violence movement. Shundra is an evangelist in the church and her husband, LesJuan Robinson, is a church elder. She also participates in Chicago’s Citizens for Change, which supports families of murder victims. Seven months after Deno was killed, Shundra found out she was pregnant. She and her husband are now parents to 20-month-old son, Destin.
Diana Aguilar (Mother of Aliyah Shell, 6)
Diana Aguilar’s six-year-old daughter, Aliyah Shell, was killed in a drive-by shooting on March 17, 2012, as she sat with her mother on the family’s Little Village front porch. Two teens have been charged in her murder. Diana has been active in Chicago’s Citizens for Change, comprised of mothers who have lost children to gun violence. “We reach out to parents and let them know they’re not alone—we’re walking in their shoes,” Diana said. Diana is participating in Advocacy Days to lobby for stronger and more effective gun laws.
Tonya Burch (mother of Deontae Smith)
Tonya Burch’s son, Deontae Smith, 19, was shot in the back as he was leaving an unauthorized neighborhood block party in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood on August 1, 2009. At the time of his death, Smith was enrolled in business courses at Daley College and had received notification to take the Air Force exam. Although there were between 100 to 200 people at the party, no one has come forward with information about the shooting. His murder remains unsolved, but Tonya Burch is determined to find her son’s killer. Deontae’s story has been on American Most Wanted, World News, 20/20 and Windy City Live. She regularly walks through Englewood’s toughest streets with flyers and reward information. Tonya has teamed up with Father Michael Pfleger to raise more reward money. She is active in Purpose Over Pain, an organization that reaches out to families who have lost loved ones and pursues solutions to gun violence. Tonya also works on her own to help community youth by sponsoring back-to-school events and school supply giveaways. In Washington next week, she plans to lobby for stronger gun laws.
Cleopatra Cowley Pendleton and Nathanial Pendleton (parents of Hadiya Pendleton)
The Pendletons’s daughter, Hadiya Pendleton, 15, was shot in the back and killed while standing with friends inside Harsh Park in Chicago on January 29, 2013. She was a student at King College Prep High School. Only one week earlier, she performed at events for President Barack Obama’s second inauguration. One of the suspects in her shooting was on probation after pleading guilty to aggravated unlawful use of a weapon one year earlier.
Diane Latiker (founder and president of Kids Off the Block, Inc.)
Diane Latiker is founder and president of Kids Off the Block, Inc. (KOB), a community-based, youth development organization. The mother of eight children, Ms. Diane—as the neighborhood youth refer to her—is a 24-year resident of the Roseland community on the far South Side of Chicago. She founded KOB in her home in 2003. Looking at the children that visited her home, Latiker saw them as future health professionals, doctors, lawyers, musicians, sports figures, politicians and actresses. Latiker believed that she could make a difference in the community and in the lives of the children she encountered every day. She opened up her home in an effort to get young people off the streets and involved in programs that would benefit them for the rest of their lives. KOB started with 10 neighborhood kids. It has now impacted the lives of thousands. “Some say our youth is a lost generation,” Latiker said. “I don’t believe that to be true. I think differently. I have heard the voices and they speak of hope and love. With compassion, love, and guidance, I believe this generation can be led to discover a spectrum of opportunities and become positive leaders in our communities.”
Gwen Baxter (mother of Larry Harper)
Gwen Baxter lost her son Larry Harper, 22, to gun violence in December of 2003. He was engaged to be married at the time. He and a friend were leaving another friend’s house when he was shot by a robber. Baxter founded the organization Youth Voices Against Violence, which organizes young people to persuade peers to take a non-violence pledge and get involved in anti-violence organizations and programs. In Washington, Baxter plans to lobby for laws to prevent guns from reaching the streets.
Joy McCormack (mother of Francisco “Frankie” Valencia)
Joy McCormack is the founder and president of Chicago’s Citizens for Change, a nonprofit organization which responds to, supports and empowers families in Chicago surviving violent loss. Joy now represents over 100 families who have lost young people in Chicago and is fighting to create a system which responds to all families experiencing violent loss. Most recently, she collaborated with DePaul University, Steppenwolf Theatre and Chicago Public Libraries to illustrate the choices and consequences of violence through a play and now book, “How Long Will I Cry” being used in Chicago Public Schools as curriculum. Joy comes to this experience because of the murder of her son, Francisco “Frankie” Valencia, Jr. At the time, her family lived in a “safe neighborhood” and her son lived on campus as a senior at DePaul University, when he was murdered with an illegal semi-automatic weapon on November 1, 2009. Frankie was a rising community star, believed in change for young people, worked on the Obama campaign in Iowa for over a year and was nominated to intern at the White House. Just days after his death, Frankie would have received the Lincoln Laureate award from Governor Pat Quinn; instead, he was buried.
Maria Pike (mother of Ricky Pike)
Maria Pike is the mother of Ricky Pike, 24, who was shot to death by an alleged gang member who pulled up alongside his car and fired six to 10 shots. Ricky Pike was the best friend of Frankie Valencia, 21, who was gunned down three years earlier at a Halloween party in the same Logan Square neighborhood. Pike, a graduate of Cordon Bleu culinary school, hoped to one day own his own restaurant. Maria Pike is involved in Chicago’s Citizens for Change, an organization started by Joy McCormack, the mother of Frankie Valencia.
Camiella Williams (community activist)
Camiella Williams is a community activist and gun reform advocate fighting to halt the tide of gun violence that is devastating Chicago’s inner city neighborhoods. She is currently working with local, state and national leaders—including Congresswoman Robin Kelly—to find “a serious solution” to gun violence. “I’m fighting day and night to bring awareness to violence and the need for sensible gun legislation,” she said. “We need a national movement. We’re going to fight to the end.” Growing up on the South Side of Chicago, Camiella experienced violence on a daily basis in her neighborhood. She accepted it as normal. Camiella was recently recognized by Kids Off the Block, a Chicago youth organization, for her efforts to reduce youth violence and her fight for commonsense gun legislation. She has also received an award from the Greater Roseland Community Center for serving as a mentor to girls and young women.