After Robbie Williams finished the mile-long trek from St. Alphonsus Liguori “Rock” Catholic Church to the Boys and Girls Club of Greater St. Louis on North Grand, tears rolled down her face and her emotions boiled over.
She marched with hundreds of others as part of the second Wear Orange Day anti-gun violence campaign presented by Radio One St. Louis, Better Family Life and co-sponsored by Moms Demand Action on Saturday, June 8.
The event is a part of a national campaign, and Saturday’s march was the culminating event for a weekend of programming that included a town hall meeting and a community resource fair.
“We are committed to this community,” said Nate Dixon, station manager for Radio One St. Louis. “Today is not about money or revenue. Today is about ‘we have a crisis in this city’ – and we have a mouthpiece with our station.”
Williams knows the ripple of trauma that gun violence imposes on families like few could imagine.
“They were all first cousins,” Williams said, pointing to the four obituaries glued to poster board that served as her sign for the march. “This one just came back from Vegas with his wife on Sunday. This one right here and my nephew Ray Ray just got back from Atlanta on that Monday to see my sister and they cousins. They came home and got killed.”
The victims of the quadruple homicide on Shreve in North City last month were her nephews. Robert Williams Jr., 42, Brendan Lee Williams, 30, and Ray Howard, 28 were pronounced dead at the scene. Kenneth Lee III, 27, died from his injuries at a hospital.
“They are all cousins – first cousins,” Robbie Williams said again. “They all got killed the same night at the same place, and it’s so hard on me.”
The tears spilled once again. Instead of wiping them away, she kept her hands fixed on the poster she made in honor of her nephews.
“I just ask God to give me strength. I can’t eat. I can’t sleep. You know you don’t question God, but sometimes …” her words trickled off into a cry that shook her body.
A group of women wrapped their arms around her and began to fervently pray. She could be heard over their prayers.
“God, give me strength,” Williams said. “Give me strength, Lord.” After the prayer, Williams went back to her sign.
“These two right here, their birthday was the same day but different years,” Williams said. “These two were brothers.”
Their grandmother, Williams’ sister, died the next day. Her family had five funerals in two days. “It’s just like it ain’t real,” she said. “I’m in counseling right now.”
She told Faye Combs and Janet Avery, two prayer warriors who stayed with Williams after the circle disbanded, that it took all the strength she had in her to get out of bed to come to the march.
“Thank y’all so much for praying,” Williams said to Combs and Avery. They promised to keep her lifted in prayer.
‘One is way too many’
Robbie Williams was probably the most extreme example of how gun violence can devastate a family. But among the marchers were dozens carrying signs that honored the lives of loved ones tragically lost. They were mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, daughters, sons, nieces and nephews.
“There needs to be a zero-tolerance policy for gun violence,” said James Clark, vice president of community outreach at Better Family Life. “What you tolerate, you teach.”
Some of those impacted were asked to address the crowd ahead of the march. Phyllis Curry was one of them. Her son was killed by people he grew up with.
“Those kids came to my house and ate at my house,” Curry said. “When they got older, they began to feud and fight. And at 22, my son was murdered at Page and Union by people he grew up and played with in the neighborhood.”
She issued a call of action for marchers to take an active role in working to end gun violence.
“I’m asking all of you to stand up, St. Louis,” Curry said. “From today and here on out, we are the only people that can save our children. Don’t act like it ain’t happening. Because it is happening to all of us. If we don’t say or do something now, it’s going to continue. And guess who ain’t gonna have no future? – it’s gonna be us.”
Popular St. Louis radio personality Tony Scott, who now works remotely in Texas as a weekend personality for 95.5 FM, flew in just for the march.
“These are just some of the people we’ve lost to gun violence in St. Louis,” Scott said. “One is way too many. People who look like me and you are getting killed for no reason at all.”
He said young men who don’t know how to deal with anger, disappointment and rejection contribute to the casualties. “Hurting people is all they know,” Scott said. “We need to teach them. We need to be patient with them – and we need to encourage them and show them the right way.”
Mayor Lyda Krewson, Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards, Police Chief John Hayden and Fire Chief Dennis Jenkerson attended. Krewson echoed some of Scott’s sentiments when she addressed the crowd.
“I get a text message every time there is a shooting in St. Louis,” Krewson said. “And so often I believe that these are people who do not know how to handle their differences in a better way. We have to give them hope, education, training and jobs.”
She’s received several texts since Saturday’s march. One of them included the heartbreaking news of the two small children hit with stray bullets during a drive-by shooting in South City on Monday – a tragic shooting that claimed the life of three-year-old Kennedi Powell.