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Locals gather to 'stop the violence'

By Shannon Jenkins

With stormy weather threatening an outdoor community event Saturday evening in Riverdale, organizers had no choice but to move inside.

Shortly after 6 p.m. the Rev. Rod Johnson, who organized "Youth Explosion in Travon Memorial Park," announced to performers and attendees that the celebration would move from the baseball park on Church Street to a skating rink down the road.

Johnson, a member of the Clayton County Board of Education, and fellow organizers were determined to bring their message to the community, which is still reeling from the shooting death of 4-year-old Travon Wilson. The park was renamed in April after Wilson, who was killed last June when a stray bullet from a gang shoot-out struck him while he was walking his bicycle at the park.

With the theme "Stopping the violence: Building one youth and one community at a time," Saturday's event was meant to "restore peace, life and love back into the communities and to provide an avenue for youth to have a voice," organizers said.

"We wanted to do something positive in the community," Johnson said. "Although Travon Wilson was shot in this park, it's still a wonderful place for children, and this is still a wonderful community to raise children."

Sgt. Frank Craddock said he and the other Clayton County Sheriff's officers were there to support the event and its message.

"I hope it will bring the community together," he said. "I wish we could do this every Saturday, but we can't."

Johnson's wife, Celeste, said the event was a "great community gathering tool."

"We're trying to give the community another option rather than hurting one another," she said.

As a choral music director at Kendrick Middle School and a performer with Cornerstone Music & Entertainment, Celeste Johnson also was at the event to entertain local youth.

"We're hoping to feed their minds through music," she said.

J. Jucka, a performer with Eighties Babies, also offered entertainment and support.

"This is a good thing right here," he said of the community gathering.

Representatives of Awesome Inc., a Riverdale-based youth development program, also attended. Elaine Connerly said the organization was there because the community needed to do as much as possible to help youth and to provide a positive outlet for them.

Kim "Shonuff" Mitchell came from Stockbridge to show her support for Clayton County, which she said has seen a lot of youth violence lately.

"We have to repair the community from within," she said. "If we get together, we can do a lot to repair the problems ourselves."