Local nonprofit organization Ujima Community Working Together, Inc. hosted its eighth annual Stop the Violence: Put the Guns Down event this past Saturday, August 24 on Bushwick Ave. and Madison St. The event was sponsored by local businesses and organizations like ModernMD and El Aquila Mini Market, and provided local kids with free food, games, and a backpack and school supplies giveaway sponsored by production company Broadway Stages.
The event’s mission was to teach kids about sustainable alternatives to violence, particularly gun violence, by showing the importance of education, the arts, and having a positive relationship with the local police force.
The event fostered a cheerful and friendly environment. Kids flocked to the popcorn stand and the giant chess set and Connect 4 board. The face-painting and t-shirt-decorating stations also provided ample entertainment. Community members eagerly loaded up plates with burgers and hot dogs.
Representatives from the New York City Board of Election came out to emphasize voting for the proper officials in order to help reduce violence, and police officers from the 83rd Precinct, including main officer Daniel Dooley, came to mingle with community members and help dole out free backpacks and school supplies.
In spite of the day’s upbeat tone, reminders of the event’s mission were ever-present. Kids sported t-shirts bearing the plea, “Don’t shoot. I want to grow up,” while police officers wore ones with the event’s name on the front.
Director and founder of Ujima Community Working Together, Inc., Anita Haines, first launched the event eight years ago in response to the issue of violence in local schools. Haines, who was enjoying the shade of the popcorn tent, said that the event is strategically scheduled right before school starts for most kids to remind them how to deal with bullying.
Haines was born and raised in Bushwick and believes that violence is a serious local issue, but that “there’s always somebody you can talk to.” The organization educates the local community about resources like the Department of Youth and Community Development (DYCD) as well as opportunities for employment and education. They received a grant in 2017 to paint a mural covering up graffiti in order to encourage a safer community.
Haines’ friend Michael Myers, also a Bushwick native, said that the event is “very much needed.” As a father of several Bushwick school system graduates, he was happy to show his support.
Officer Dooley spoke to Bushwick’s current low rate of violence in schools. “We’re doing well because we all pitch in,” he said. “We’re all committed to making sure these schools and these kids are safe.”
Cover photo by Monica Holowacz of Broadway Stages.
All other photos by Rachel Baron for Bushwick Daily.
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