Particpants gather in Schenley Park after walking in honor of Sha’Vaughn Kierra Wallace. Courier Photos (J.L. Martello)
For the past four years, Carla Gaines-Robinson has hosted a community walk in honor of her daughter Sha’Vaughn Kierra Wallace who was shot and killed in May 2009. The Annual Walk for Life, which was held this year on July 13, also commemorates the life of Jayla Brown, a 19-year-old shot and killed in August 2007.
“What I want people to take away is life is worth living. It hurts me and pains me that my daughter was one of the good ones and she’s not here,” Gaines-Robinson said at a picnic following this year’s walk. “The order of death is never supposed to be that your child dies before you. My child at 18 should never be gone.”
The Walk for Life, held in Schenley Park, serves to raise awareness about the deadly violence in urban communities. However, the Kierra Keeps Caring Foundation also strives to provide positive alternatives to urban youth by awarding a $1000 college scholarship each year.
“Yes the urban neighborhoods are messed but there are positives. If we work together this child could be the next doctor. I think education is key,” Gaines-Robinson said. “If there is more education kids will start saying, I don’t need a gun, it’s the non-educated ones who have a gun. Educated people just don’t go around killing people.”
Applicants were asked to write a 500-word essay on how gang violence has impacted urban communities. This year’s recipient was 17-year-old Destiny Thomas of the Hill District who has seen several friends and family members lose their lives as a result of violence. She plans on attending Temple University to study business.
“We’re so used to losing people at a young age, it’s good to bring everyone together,” Thomas said of the annual event before finding out she had been selected to receive the award.
In addition to their annual walk, the Kierra Keeps Caring Foundation also works with parents on how to raise their children. The organization’s mission is to eliminate violence against youth by “educating our youth about the essential skills needed to build character, develop communication skills, as well as motivating them to acquire a strong value system.”
“I think we need to give back to our community and try to steer our young people in a positive way,” said Marla Wilson, youth director at Bethel AME Church. “Working with youth in the community, so many of them have lost family.”
Nearly everyone who participates in the walk each year knows someone who was killed. They use the event to share their loss while looking for ways to reduce the violence in their communities.
“I participate because at the age of eight my mother was killed,” said Desaray McCray, of the North Side. “I’m taking a proactive role to keep this from happening to someone else.
This year will be 30 years since my mom was killed. She was 29.”
“I knew these ladies (Wallace and Brown) who died. One of them was my cousin; one was my friend. So I came to pay my respects,” said Jeremy Cherry also of the North Side. “It’s important to keep the peace and bring everyone together.”
The walk was hosted with the support of Posh Nail Boutique and C&C Ellise Hair and Nail Boutique.