Braving heavy rain, a small but vocal group gathered Saturday to remember the victims of homicides and to say “Stop the gun violence.”
Organized by two mothers of homicide victims, Flossie Lee and Georgia Culclager, the rally was held at Saracen Landing and featured food, music and a variety of speakers.
“I’m kind of disappointed,” Lee said about the small crowd Saturday afternoon. “If it were a rapper we would probably fill up the place but a small group is not going to stop us. We’re not going to give up.”
This was the 16th year for stop the violence rallies which began a year after Lee’s son, Keith Norfleet and another man, Arthur Shaw were shot to death at University Avenue and Pullen Street on Easter Sunday 1997.
Culclager’s son, Billy Culclager Jr., was killed on Feb. 2, 2009, and a second son, Junius, was paralyzed and is in a wheelchair.
Darnell Thomas, who lives in Hot Springs, is a cousin of the Culclagers and said Saturday he was at the rally to support his family in Pine Bluff.
“I lost a family member due to gun violence and my number one goal is to show that we’re against violence,” Thomas said. “We need to be unified and come together to help the community.”
Among the speakers was Pine Bluff Mayor Debe Hollingsworth, who was the first mayor to attend the event in its 16 year history, according to the Rev. Jesse Turner, executive director of Interested Citizens for Voter Registration, a sponsor of the rally.
“On this special day we’re here to celebrate life and what has been given to us,” Hollingsworth said. “We must be respectful of each other and of life. That’s our charge.”
Like the other speakers, Hollingsworth said she was there to speak out against gun violence and to encourage young people to stand strong against violence.
Hollingsworth also encouraged the crowd to become involved.
“Attend the city council meeting. Sign up to speak and let your voice be heard,” she said.
“If more of the faith-based community got involved in our city, the better we would be,” Hollingsworth said.
Rev. Jason Long, pastor of the Faith Worship Center in Pine Bluff, a former resident of Chicago, said he was a member of a gang in that city and was involved in a lot of vandalism and witnessed a lot of crimes.
“When I moved to Pine Bluff, I saw some of the same things but I changed my life and I hope I can become a beacon of light for the young people of our city,” Long said.
As a young pastor, Long said he is able to reach out to younger people easier because of what he said was a generation gap with older ministers.
“That’s nothing against older ministers, but there are mind set differences between them and younger people,” he said. “Times have progressed and changed but a lot of those mind sets have not.
“Their thinking is still in the 50’s and 60’s while we are in the 2000’s and there’s a disconnect,” Long said.
Myra Pratt, an evangelist who described herself as a former crime victim, said “There’s hope yet for Pine Bluff.”
“We’ve got to unify as one and face the problems head on,” Pratt said.