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Racine students among more than 10 million to sign pledge against gun violence

RYAN PATTERSON

RACINE — Sylvia Bennett-Stone lost a daughter to gun violence in 2004. In the wake of that tragedy, she wanted to be involved in efforts to increase community safety.

To start, she participated in a Student Pledge Against Gun Violence event, a national program that has grown since then.

“I wanted to encourage the other kids,” said Bennett-Stone, national director of Voices of Black Mothers United, to an organization that works with people affected by gun violence in order to foster healing. “This was the way of encouraging them and getting them past their grief.”

On Wednesday, the Day of National Concern, more than 100,000 students in more than a dozen states signed anti-gun violence pledges. That included students at Starbuck Middle School, 1516 Ohio St.

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Pictured here signing a pledge to never use firearms to solve personal problems at Starbuck Middle School Wednesday afternoon is Estella Sorenson.


ALEX RODRIGUEZ,

“We’re never going to use our guns to solve our problems,” said one of the students signing the pledge in Starbuck’s hallway Wednesday afternoon before one of her friends added, “We’re gonna solve them ourselves.”

Students signed a pledge to never bring a gun to school, never use a gun to settle a personal dispute and understand the importance of personal decisions.



Signing

Jordyn Brooks signs an anti-gun violence pledge Wednesday at Starbuck Middle School, 1516 Ohio St., Racine.


ALEX RODRIGUEZ,




Signing

Starbuck Middle School students Tyson Mandujno, left, and Xander Stulo, second from left, sign an anti-gun violence pledge Wednesday.


ALEX RODRIGUEZ,

“My individual choices and actions, when multiplied by those of young people throughout the country, will make a difference,” the pledge states. “Together, by honoring this pledge we can reverse the violence and grow up in safety.”

Wednesday’s effort was a partnership between Voices of Black Mothers United, Racine County and the Racine Unified School District. The Student Pledge Against Gun Violence program has grown over the years, with more than 10 million signatures since 1996, and this is the first year Racine students were involved.



Pledge sign

Signs promoting the Student Pledge Against Gun Violence are seen outside the Racine County Courthouse Wednesday afternoon.


RYAN PATTERSON,




Pledge sign

Signs promoting the Student Pledge Against Gun Violence were placed along Highway 31 in the Racine area, like this one seen near Highway MM Wednesday morning.


ADAM ROGAN,

In addition to student signatures, signs outside the Racine County Courthouse and along area highways aimed to raise awareness for the anti-gun violence effort.

The new effort comes during a year of increased local gun violence. Racine has had nine homicides so far this year, according to the Racine Police Department.

According to the law enforcement arm of the Racine Violence Crime Reduction Initiative, there were 841 shots fired calls in the first nine months of 2022. That is far higher than the same time frame in recent years, with 631 calls in 2021, 737 calls in 2020, 401 in 2019 and 292 in 2018. There were 241 gun violence arrests through September of this year, slightly up from 234 arrests at the same time last year.



Nakeyda Haymer headshot

Haymer

Nakeyda Haymer’s brother was shot and killed in 2017, and she said gun violence “truly does impact everyone around you, not just the victim or offender.”

Haymer, the Wisconsin state leader of Voices of Black Mothers United, hopes that students who signed pledges will become leaders who can help themselves and their peers make good decisions.

“With the youth being our future, we need to establish and really pour into those leaders so that the work can continue, and then the communities not only get safe but they remain safe,” Haymer said.

Racine County Executive Jonathan Delagrave agreed, saying that students signing the pledge “is going to reverberate throughout our county and hopefully to other youth.”

Delagrave called the pledge “one tool in the toolbox” to reduce crime and said it is part of Racine County’s “proactive, holistic approach” to address local gun violence. “Our county is only as strong as our youth. And, if our youth are consistently facing trauma, in this case, gun violence, our county isn’t very strong.”

The officials were excited to see students signing pledges and taking active control over their lives.

Delagrave hopes that those who signed the pledge ask themselves what they want their future to look like and how they can make that future a reality.

“We hope that they reflect on that and have some of these ideals and goals in place and not let gun violence or trauma affect that vision,” Delagrave said.

Bennett-Stone aims for youth engagement so that less violence occurs, and Wednesday’s event could play a role in decreasing gun deaths.

“If we can encourage our youth to make better choices,” Bennett-Stone said, “and (give) them hope for their own lives, perhaps they won’t choose to take another.”

IN PHOTOS: ‘Walk a Mile in Her Shoes’ against domestic violence marches through Downtown Racine

Skating and smiling

Skating and smiling

Isaura Serrano with the Root River Rollers, right, skates and smiles with a friend during the inaugural “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” march against domestic violence in downtown Racine on Thursday.


RYAN PATTERSON,

Walking and smiling

Walking and smiling

Kristeen Morgenroth, Women’s Resource Center board president, right, and Ernie Rossi, WRC board member, during the inaugural “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” march against domestic violence in downtown Racine on Thursday.


RYAN PATTERSON,

Heels marching

Heels marching

Marchers wear high heels during the inaugural “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” march against domestic violence in downtown Racine on Thursday.


RYAN PATTERSON,

Marching downtown

Marching downtown

Kristeen Morgenroth, Women’s Resource Center board president, second from left, and several people march during the inaugural “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” march against domestic violence in downtown Racine on Thursday.


RYAN PATTERSON,

Isaura Serrano speaks

Isaura Serrano speaks

Isaura Serrano with the Root River Rollers, center, speaks during the inaugural “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” march against domestic violence in downtown Racine on Thursday.


RYAN PATTERSON,

Ernie Rossi speaks

Ernie Rossi speaks

Ernie Rossi, right, Women’s Resource Center board member, speaks during the inaugural “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” march against domestic violence in downtown Racine on Thursday.


RYAN PATTERSON,

High heels

High heels

Men wear red high heels during the inaugural “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” march against domestic violence in downtown Racine on Thursday.


RYAN PATTERSON,

Red heels

Red heels

Walkers wear high heels during the inaugural “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” march against domestic violence in downtown Racine on Thursday.


RYAN PATTERSON,

“Put yourself in her shoes”

Joe Morgenroth, left, and Jon Antonneau hold signs during the inaugural “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” march against domestic violence in downtown Racine on Thursday.


RYAN PATTERSON,

Jonathan Delagrave speaks

Jonathan Delagrave speaks

County Executive Jonathan Delagrave, right, speaks during the inaugural “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” march against domestic violence in downtown Racine on Thursday.


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“No means no”

From left: Jon Antonneau, Luke Riegel and Isaura Serrano listen while County Executive Jonathan Delagrave, right, speaks during the inaugural “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” march against domestic violence in downtown Racine on Thursday.


RYAN PATTERSON,

WATCH NOW: Walk a Mile in Her Shoes

Alex Rodriguez of The Journal Times contributed to this report.

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