On May 22, 2009 Carla Gaines-Robinson lost a piece of herself when her daughter Sha’Vaughn Kierra Wallace, a freshman at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, home for summer break, and her unborn grandchild were gunned down on a North Side street. She had been sitting in a car with her boyfriend, talking to friends, when convicted shooter Lamon Street started shooting into the crowd. Wallace was hit as she tried to run away.
With her vision to stop the rampant epidemic of violence plaguing the community through education and the showing of love to kids who aren’t receiving it, Gaines-Robinson decided to use her tragedy to help others by founding the Kierra Keeps Caring Foundation.
On July 12, at Schenley Park, KKCF held its 5th annual Walk For Life. The theme for the event hosted by Purpose of Life Home Healthcare, Posh Nail Boutique and the Curtis Martin Foundation, was “Take a Step, Save a Life.”
“He (Street) has broken me…Sha’Vaughn lives in me and she keeps me young; I’m closer to her now, then I was in the physical. This is a celebration of a young life that touched so many people,” said Gaines-Robinson. “The walk was a success, I’m very glad, and now we’re looking to year six. To be able to have that amount of people together, and have no incidents, that speaks volumes.”
The annual gathering, which was attended by more than 400 people, included a walk, a celebration cookout, information for the community on mental health and life insurance, and a presentation of the “Men of Honor,” an honoring of several men in the community whom are role models and work with kids. Those men honored were Rev. Glenn Grayson, Steven Upsher, Greg Blair, Darrin Walls, and the late Clayton Brunson, a 27-year-old man who was gunned down June 1 at Ficklin’s Bar, in Uptown.
Kianna Ralph, 23, from the North Side, said she attended the walk “because this was one of my best friends and I support everything that has to do with her. I want all of the violence to stop… I’m glad that all these people came out to support.”
“My vision is to educate the kids, it seems the more educated kids don’t resort to violence or drugs because they have goals to attain. My foundation is saying we’re going to show the children some love, the ones that haven’t received love, and send some of the kids to school with some of the proceeds from the walk,” said Gaines-Robinson. “This is a lost generation and it’s going to take community support, it’s going to take parents, it’s going to take everybody to get these kids back on track or we’re going to keep (losing children).”
Tradesse Myers, of West Mifflin, said she enjoyed the celebration and she felt it was important to attend “because I’m a teenager myself and I want to see kids do better. I don’t want to see more danger.” Myers also added that the violence needs to stop and that kids need to be better educated on how to control their anger and that “there’s better ways to handle things besides violence.”
Gaines-Robinson said she’s calling out the community leaders, politicians and the churches. “This is no longer a talk about it issue, this is no longer a rally issue. These are lives that are very important to people. This isn’t about voters’ day and getting your vote in, this is about helping and rebuilding. We’re all one blood, no matter what ethnicity we come from. We have too many churches in this community. This is a situation all churches should be involved with.”
She said each year she sends out information to all of the churches in the Pittsburgh area and only hears back from one or two.
Gaines-Robinson said although a lot of the issues with regards to violence haven’t been addressed by previous administrations, it’s time for current mayor Bill Peduto to address them. “This is a 9-1-1 call, we’re asking everyone to get involved.”
Besides the annual walk, KKCF also holds a Mother’s Day Dinner, it feeds senior citizens on Thanksgiving Day and it provides scholarships to college-bound students. But Gaines-Robinson said they’d like to do more. She said she would like to help kids under the age of 12. “Because if you reach them by then, you might be able to save them.”
Along with honoring the life of Wallace, Gaines-Robinson said she also does this for her 9-year-old twins. “I have to do something about this because I can’t go through this again.”
She said those individuals committing the violence do not realize what they’re doing to the families. “Every time I hear of a child dying, I shed a tear for the parents-for the mother, for the father, for the grandparents. It brings back 2009.”
Since Wallace’s death, Gaines-Robinson said her life has changed drastically. She said she is more homebound than she ever was, she prefers not to go out at night, crowds make her uneasy and the month of May is especially hard for her.
“We miss her. Every holiday, it’s like a place is missing. It’s never a holiday that you don’t go pass and say Sha’Vaughn would be doing this. They’ve broken me. Sometimes I’ll smell a scent or see a figure that reminds me of her and tears just fall,” she said. “My grandchild would be about 5 years old now, this young man robbed me and he robbed our family.”
A portion of the proceeds from the walk will be used to award two college-bound students in Allegheny County with a scholarship. She said the recipients will be named soon.
“It takes a village to raise a child. I know we didn’t birth these children, but they’re still our children. I’m crying out to our leaders to become proactive and unite to stop some of these murders,” she said.
(For more information on the Kierra Keeps Caring Foundation, visit www.kierrakeepscaring.com.)
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