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Eight years ago, in the aftermath of the tragic events of Sept. 11, Robert Thomas and his wife Cynthia staged the first Stop the Violence Rally. Since that time, the rally has served as a yearly reminder of the need for peace in the Hill District and throughout the world.
|ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS —Robert Thomas welcomes the crowd to the rally and thanks the many contributors.
“Whether it’s local or across the country, it’s violence,” Robert Thomas said. “That same year, here in Pittsburgh, we had the tragedy of 12 murders in a four-block area.”
The rally has been successful over the years, spurring a relative cease-fire in the Hill District on Sept. 11. Thomas said he would like to take the success of the rally and expand it to a weekend event in a larger venue to have a greater impact on the entire city.
“It’s one day without violence and if we could do it for a day, we could do it for a weekend. If we could do it for a weekend, we could do it for a month,” Robert Thomas said. “We need to stay in their face.”
Kent Bey, founder of Royal Tribe Music, a United Way agency, has been a contributor to the event since it began. He said he first decided to get involved because of Pittsburgh’s high homicide rate at the time, especially in Homewood and the Hill District.
“Every year that the Thomas family has been doing this, there has been no reported acts of violence in the community,” Bey said. “The overall spirit of the event spreads over the Hill District and I hope this trend continues.”
This year’s rally at the corner of Bedford and Chauncey featured a series of live acts as well as an appearance by mayoral candidate Franco “Dok” Harris, and entertainment for the children. For Bey, the event was especially important for the children, giving them an evening filled with positive images and role models.
“We may never put an end to violence, but if we don’t do anything, we’re not being part of the solution, we’re being part of the problem,” Bey said. “The children get the opportunity to see the community come together for once in a while under the watchful eye of the elders.”
One of those elders was blind singer William Dorsey who performed a series of songs at the rally. He said he hoped to inspire the community by sharing the story of how he overcame the obstacles in his life.
“We’re trying to destroy Black-on-Black crime,” Dorsey said. “The reason I wanted to be involved in this rally is I need the people to stop the violence.”
The Pittsburgh police provided toys and activities for the children, including safety calendars, puzzles, encyclopedias and toy race cars. District 2 Officer Dorothea Leftwich said what stood out most for her throughout the rally was how the police presence made many of the children curious about criminal justice as a future profession.
“We’re trying to promote positive energy in a higher crime neighborhood,” Leftwich said. “The children are inspired by it and it inspired many of them to focus on a career.”
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