By Micha Green, AFRO Staff Writer, [email protected]

As the District faces its own escalating homicide rates, the entire nation is seeing a rise in gun violence and the shoe company TOMS held a rally alongside other organizations and activists in hopes of putting an end to the worsening numbers, heal communities and appropriately regulate who’s purchasing the murderous weapons.

The “End Gun Violence Together” rally hosted by TOMS brought together, anti gun violence leaders, including Amber Goodwin, founder of Community Justice Action Fund (CJAF); Pastor Michael McBride, director of Faith in Action’s “LIVE FREE” campaign; politicians such as Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Rep. Robin Kelly (D- IL) and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser; children activists Naomi Wadler who wowed audiences at the March for Our Lives; Yolanda Renee King, granddaughter of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and celebrity artists such as rapper Vic Mensa, musician MILCK and actor Taye Diggs.

Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) spoke passionately about addressing gun violence, which she calls “a public health crisis,” and the passing of H.R.8 which would require universal background checks for all Americans to purchase guns. (Photo by Micha Green)

Held at Union Market Dock 5 in Northeast, D.C. from 7-9 p.m. on Monday night, “End Gun Violence Together” brought out hundreds to discuss the horrors of gun violence, community solutions and national legislation, while adding the element of fun as guests were encouraged to write postcards to Congress, enjoy the open bar, eat free slices from Timber Pizza Co and many even walked away with a complimentary pair of TOMS.

The rally fell the evening before the activists and artists met with members of Congress to push for H.R.8, which advocates for universal background check legislation.

Actor Taye Diggs speaks at the TOMS “End Gun Violence Together” rally (Photo by Micha Green)

“Now, I’m of the belief that gun violence is a byproduct of other entrenched systemic inequities and disparities and a lack of opportunity that we must tackle. So the cure to address what ails us in this public health crisis that is gun violence is to address the system inequities and disparities, which, by the way, didn’t just happen- they were created by policy,” Congresswoman Pressley said to the crowd. “The cure, of which I’m proud to be an original co-sponsor, is to pass H.R.8 and universal background checks.”

The newly minted Massachusett’s Congresswoman spoke fiery and passionately as she offered further solutions for the country, such as funding the Center for Disease Control to study what causes gun violence. “If we can study influenza, we sure as hell can study the root causes of gun violence,” she said, to which the crowd responded with roaring applauses.

Rapper Vic Mensa performs at the TOMS “End Gun Violence Together” rally. (Photo by Micha Green)

Diggs said he came to amplify the voices of the more than 90 percent of Americans who desire universal background checks in order for guns to be purchased.

“Voices from every background, political leaning, religious affiliation, identity, ethnicity and age have united to show Congress that we’ve had enough of living in fear. The lives of our families, friends, coworkers, classmates- our lives are on the line- and we are here to ensure that our communities and the communities across the country are protected from senseless violence,” the actor told the crowd.

McBride, who in addition to his work with Faith in Action, pastors the WAY Church in Oakland, CA., told the AFRO that gun violence is not only a national issue but a true crisis in the Black community.

“Gun violence is an issue that disproportionately affects Black communities, poor communities.  Too often the solutions that elected officials put forth are about criminalization, incarceration and more police. We believe that the strategies, we can scale up that are grounded in public health, interventions and healing, can decrease gun violence within 18 months. So we’re partnering with TOMS to help pass background checks on the federal level, but also elevate and really scale up the work that can save a lot of lives across the country.”

The pastor and director of “LIVE FREE” sees the Black faith community as integral in helping to end gun violence.

“The faith community has been a blessing to help us,” he said.  “I know hundreds of pastors who’ve buried children, who’ve had to counsel families who lose loved ones to violence. I know hundreds of pastors who visit folks in jails and prisons. I wish there were more doing the work, but the ones who are doing the work play an important part. Institutions that are Black have an important role to play in leveraging our influence and power to change the conditions of systemic and structural violence. I would say that the Black church is still the only institution Black people own outright. So we have a role to play and shame on us if we don’t play our role,” McBride told the AFRO.

After witnessing real results in his homebase of Oakland, where he said they reduced gun violence by 50 percent in 18 months, Pastor McBride knows that over policing, criminalization and incarceration is not the key, but rather endorses getting the Black community fully engaged and targeting the root of the public health crisis that is gun violence.

“Let’s get to work.  Let’s do the work here in D.C., Baltimore, P.G. County, we can get it done.  Just like we’re doing it all across the country,” he said.