VALDOSTA, Ga. (AP) — At 16, Anaya Coleman believes gun violence is an issue in the community.
Coleman attended Valdosta High School with 18-year-old Desiyunna Hill, a rising senior who was shot to death in late June while at a party at a 1700 block North Lee Street event center.
To honor her former schoolmate, and spread what she believes to be an important message, Coleman hosted Stop the Gun Violence in Scott Park Saturday (Aug. 3).
"It was important for me to have this event because I just feel like it needs to be a difference," she said. "It's so many shootings in Valdosta and it's just to the point that somebody needs to make a change."
The event was scheduled on the same weekend as 20 people were killed and dozens injured in an El Paso, Texas, shooting, and nine people were killed and dozens injured in a shooting in Dayton, Ohio.
Coleman and a few adult volunteers tapped community leaders and local advocates to speak at the rally.
They were mayoral candidate Kevin Bussey, city council at-large candidates Adrian Rivers and Jeremy Stone and Sgt. Sabrina Smith of the Valdosta Police Department.
Desmond Grant, Hill's father, also spoke. He highlighted moments when Hill would motivate him and promote change in his life.
"When she died, she really woke me up," he said of his daughter.
Grant plans to honor Hill by making a positive community impact.
Kyle and Barbara Lee, parents of 17-year-old Solomon Lee, spoke of their son's shooting death.
The young teen, who was a junior at VHS, was attending a party unbeknownst to his parents when he died.
"It really did a lot to my home, to me, because we miss him so much," his mom said to a crowd. "It's so important when you know something that's going on in the community or when you know somebody has a gun . . . to say something."
Kyle Lee echoed her sentiment.
He told residents people don't realize how they hurt families when committing gun violence.
"When we lost Solomon, we lost a jewel. We lost a part of our hearts and it was all because of gun violence," he said.
He encouraged residents to join together to better the community.
"This gun violence needs to stop and we all need to come back together in love and unity," Kyle Lee said.
Bussey offered solutions during his speech saying choices are going to change the "direction," the "narrative" and the "culture" of Valdosta.
Reforming the culture means reforming mindsets, he said.
Kathryn Grant, director of state affairs for Campaign to Keep Guns Off Campus, urged attendees to vote not just in the 2019 election but also in the 2020 election.
During her speech, she said people should try "to make sure that guns don't get in the hands of people who shouldn't have them in the first place."
Coleman urges other youths getting involved in the matter of gun violence.
She said she hopes to be an inspiration, adding youth can have a voice in the community.
"With the guns, I feel like (they) need to be down and I feel like more younger people just need more mentors in their (lives) so that way they can see what life is really about," she said.
Coleman hopes to not only impact young people but adults as well.
"We see how she (Hill) just was gone that quickly," she said. "Anybody can be here today and be gone by tomorrow and I just feel like it can change."
Information from: The Valdosta Daily Times, http://valdostadailytimes.com/