The Northeast Performing Arts Group in partnership with Survivors of Homicide and the African Heritage Dancers & Drummers hosted a candlelight vigil on New Year’s Eve in memory of the homicide victims of 2011. The event, started on Freedom Plaza 21 years ago when the murder rate averaged 400 annually, brought sad memories and joyful praise to the crowd.

“We moved the vigil from downtown to Ward 7 because we noticed that most of the victims lived in northeast or southeast. We wanted to bring it home so that people would understand these are not just names, these were human beings that were killed who can no longer be with us,” said Rita Jackson, executive director of the Northeast Performing Arts. “Every New Year’s Eve as we end one year and start the next, we keep hoping that this vigil will be our last.”

For two decades the vigil focused on the memories of youth victims under the age of 25 who died violently in the District. This year’s event recognized the 109 homicide victims and loved ones who held their memories dear.

“We are driven to send a message of hope and peace for the future and the lives of our youth living in Washington, D.C. coming together in peace and praying for the lives lost on the streets to homicide,” Jackson said.

Participants in the vigil held a lit candle to commemorate each of the young people ages 25 and under that were killed in the District this year.

The Rev. Anthony Motley said he read that in Arlington, Va., there were no homicides for 2011. “It all boils down to education and economics. We can achieve this too in the District by working together and not allowing hate, envy and strife come into our midst,” Motley said. The minister holds an annual tea for both the mothers of murder victims and perpetrators to break the cycle of violence.

Julia Dunkins, executive director of Survivors of Homicide Inc. lost her husband to violent crime in 1969 and her son, killed over a pair of shoes he wore in 993. “We all must continue the work of stopping senseless murders,” Dunkins said.

Amin Muslim, community liaison for Councilmember Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7), expressed his grief to the participants about losing two of his nephews. “I still live with the pain every day. It’s a blessing to be among people who still want to get involved.”

Ward and D.C. Board of Education member Dorothy Douglas encouraged community groups to stay involved, with or without funding. ‘Even though our numbers are getting smaller, it still takes a whole community to raise our children,” said Douglas.
As each victim’s name was called, it was the testimony of young Arrington Lassiter, 19, who has been performing with the company since he was 4 years old, that brought things full circle.

“I lost four of my classmates to gun violence this year. Friends whose names I never thought I would be saying. This hurts,” said Lassiter.

Assistant police chief, Diane Groomes expressed what many were thinking. “Wouldn’t it be great if next year the murder count was zero?”

Valencia Mohammed

Special to the AFRO