In August 2007, 19-year-old Jayla Brown was killed outside of I.D. Labs music studio in Lawrenceville when a spray of 20 bullets rained down on the car she was sitting in. The aspiring writer had been enrolled in Community College of Allegheny County where she studied nursing.
|KIERRA KEEPS CARING—Foundation Founder Carla Gaines-Robinson leads the Third Annual Walk 4 Life through Schenley Park. (Photo by Gail Manker)
Two years later, in May 2009, 18-year-old Shavaughn Kierra Wallace, another innocent bystander who had just completed her freshman year at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, was shot and killed in the North Side. While Wallace’s killer was convicted this past February, no one has ever been charged in Brown’s death.
These two women are the inspiration behind Kierra Keeps Caring, a foundation started by Wallace’s mother Carla Gaines-Robinson. Every year, the foundation gives out scholarships as a way of counteracting the youth violence plaguing the Black community.
“I give out scholarships each year to students who pursue post secondary education,” Gaines-Robinson said. “I want to get them off the streets and I want to get them into the right hands. I hope most people are starting to get tired of this violence against youth.”
On June 30, Kierra Keeps Caring held their Third Annual Walk 4 Life Fundraiser in Schenley Park. The event not only raises money for the foundation’s scholarship fund, it also serves to raise awareness about violence and to engage the community in the process of taking back their communities.
“This year really amazed me. Last year I think there was maybe 400 people and I think we doubled it this year,” Gaines-Robinson said. “People are starting to see you have to be a part of your community. It’s starting to hit home. It’s on people’s doorsteps now. I’m tired of going to funerals; we should be going to college graduations.”
Throughout the day, Gaines-Robinson took pictures of children at the event and asked them what they plan to be when they grow up. She is working on taking the pictures and the children’s responses and turning them into a collage.
“Just yesterday a child was shot who was seven years old and when I look at him, I see the face of my child,” said Gaines-Robinson referring to the July 3 shooting of a 7-year-old in Fayette County. “I’m still missing a piece of me. The root of everything comes from my daughter.”
Moving forward, Kierra Keeps Caring will be entering the political realm, registering people to vote in order to challenge Pittsburgh’s elected officials to do more to address and prevent the city’s increasing homicide count. According to numbers reported from the end of June, 37 African-Americans have been killed in Allegheny County so far this year.
“We keep choosing these politicians and specifically the mayor. He gets invitations to come out all the time,” Gaines-Robinson said. “He has not tried to stop the gang violence. He’s never around when he needs to be.”
Gaines-Robinson is also working to educate young mothers about the importance of the role they play in their child’s life.
“I’m trying to teach the young mothers, once you take on the responsibility to have a child, you have to meet that responsibility. The parents play a part in this and if we work together we can get things done,” Gaines-Robinson said. “This generation is a little lost. If you teach these kids to respect life, maybe they’ll make it.”
Kierra Keeps Caring sponsors an annual essay contest with a grand prize of $1000. This year’s theme was “How Has Gang Violence Impacted the Urban Community?”