Shortly after Friday night’s Speak Up Against Violence walk headed north on 6th Avenue, it would have been understandable had participants started chanting an old nursery rhyme:
Rain, rain, go away;
Come again another day.
But a downpour strong enough to postpone the Hoover-North football game wasn’t enough to stop an event organized to speak out against crime and violence, and in support of safe neighborhoods and communities.
The walk was spearheaded by students from Harding Middle School. Community activist/rap artist Will Keeps worked with Harding Arts Integration Specialist Cassie Kendzora, who developed a lesson plan that serves multiple purposes by using Keeps and his work to dovetail with elements in the coming of age classic novel The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton.
So the walk wasn’t just an event of it’s own but part of a larger unit of study at Harding.
“We work to engage students with an artist in residence and explore arts, social justice and civic engagement,” said Kendzora.
Before long Harding was joined by North and Hoover high schools along with Goodrell and Meredith middle schools in organizing the walk, which was originally scheduled to conclude before the start of the Polar Bears homecoming game against the Huskies.
On Friday, students and community members alike gathered in the North High auditorium for a brief program. North principal Ben Graeber and Harding principal Joy Linquist, two of the key backers of the event, welcomed everyone and talked about the need to come together as a community to help end crime and violence. A performance by the Harding Breakerz was followed by comments from School Resource Office Moody of the Des Moines Police Department and DMPS Chief Schools Officer Matt Smith (who tried his hand at a Breakerz-like dance move), and a performance by Keeps.
The message was clear: the community needs to come together and work together to put an end to violence, and students can help lead the way.
One change in plans was caused by the weather: what was to have been the release of two dozen balloons, representing each murder victim so far this year in Des Moines, was replaced by 24 students, each silently holding a candle to honor those lost.
And then it was off to the streets for a walk along 6th Avenue from North to Euclid Avenue and back. Many people carried printed signs that read “Peace” and “Love,” while others carried or wore personal tributes to victims. When the walk began a light drizzle was falling that was a deluge within a couple of blocks. But no one turned back. When they returned their clothes may have been drenched and the signs were soaked, but no one’s spirits were dampened.