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Adult Education, City of Cleveland, Crime

Men Who Wish to Change reach out to Cleveland families of street violence victims

Plain Press, December 2015 Men Who Wish to Change, a group of prisoners in the Trumbull Correctional Camp, a state prison in Trumbull County, used their resources and contacts in Cleveland and Akron to host a condolence dinner for families of street violence victims.

Men Who Wish to Change founder Rawn Nash recruited his Godmother, Jo Ann Jones, to organize the event in Cleveland. Jones in turn, recruited some of Nash’s relatives to help cater the event.

Men Who Wish to Change also asked a group of teens from Akron called God’s Chosen Ones to help serve the meal to the invited guests. They also recruited speakers for the event which included: Deonte Brunson, Director of God’s Chosen Ones; Judge Anita Laster Mayes of the Ohio Court of Appeals Eighth Appellate District; Dr. Ollie Jones, Senior Pastor of Perfecting Saints Church and Chief Executive Officer of Heart to Heart Family Support Center; Deacon Javelle Freeman from the Hough neighborhood; and Darrell Houston, who served 16 years in prison before being cleared of charges for a murder he didn’t commit.

Families of children whose death resulted from street violence invited to the event included the families of five-year old Ramon Burnett; 3-year-old Major Howard; 5-month-old Aavielle Wakefield, and the family of 12-year-old Tamir Rice. The family of 30-year-old Donta Padgett was also invited. Padgett was a victim of street violence, whose 10-year-old son witnessed his death, and was also shot.

Of the families invited, members of the Padgett, Howard and Wakefield families were able to attend.

The condolence dinner, held on November 5th at the former Broadway Free Library building, 5437 Broadway in Cleveland featured fried chicken, green beans, rice and beans, salad and beverages. Family members attending also received gift certificates and the mothers and grandmothers in attendance were given Men Who Wish to Change T-Shirts.

Judge Anita Laster Mays said her brother, Donald Laster, a member of Men Who Wish to Change, asked her to speak at the event. She noted that she shares a cousin with the Padgett family as well. Judge Laster Mays shared the story of a tragic event that impacted the life of her family when her brother Brian was killed at 131st and Harvard in 1985. She said she was in college at the time, and didn’t want to go back. She said she decided to go back because she knew her brother would have wanted her to. She advised the families of the victims of street violence “You can’t stop living. You have to be strong and keep fighting for justice.”

Dr. Ollie Jones talked to the families about the power of prayer. She said, ‘God understands your moan, and God understands your grown.”

Deacon Javelle Freeman said to the families: “It is sad to see a young boy or girl lose a life; kids without a mother or father; parents that have lost a son, daughter or child. I feel your pain. God always gives us the Word. Lean on the Word.”

Darrell Houston offered his “condolences to all families that have experienced tragedy.” He urged family members of victims to work for change. “Go to sleep tonight and think about how you can make an impact – volunteer, start an organization – your loved one will appreciate what you do in their memory.” Houston noted that the founder of Mothers Against Drunk Driving started the organization after loosing a child.

Deonte Brunson shared his experience of growing up. He said his life was so bad he tried to kill himself. Now, he says, he is grateful for what he experienced. He said God would reveal a reason not to tear your self down. He urged families to share their testimony to help others going through something similar and give them strength.

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