In an effort to address, and, ultimately, end gun violence and trauma throughout Muskegon County, community leaders are holding the first-ever “Boots on the Ground Unity March” at 2pm on Saturday, March 7.
All are invited to attend the march, which will begin at the corner of Sanford Street and Southern Avenue in the city of Muskegon. The march will end at Temple United Methodist Church, located at 2500 Jefferson St. in Muskegon Heights.
“When someone gets shot in the city, people often say, ‘I’m sad this keeps happening,’ but no one says anything three weeks, a month, past that time,” said Shauna Hunter, the executive director of Pathfinders of Muskegon, a nonprofit that is partnering with AmeriCorps and G.U.N.S. [Gaining Unity Through Nonviolent Solutions] to hold Saturday’s march. “Trauma continues even after the gunshots stop, and we want to bring awareness to the trauma that’s in our community.”
“We don’t want to forget those who have been shot and the families that have endured the violence,” Hunter continued. “People who are disenfranchised or impoverished, they’re living in trauma every day.”
Following the march, attendees are invited to join a program inside the Temple United Methodist Church, where Pathfinders is headquartered. There, Muskegon City Commissioner Willie German will speak about the impact of violence in the community. Additionally, attendees will be able to sign up to attend trauma trainings by HealthWest. Those who attend the trainings will then be able to go on and volunteer at events throughout the community, both in order to mitigate violence as well as generally support youth, Hunter explained. During Saturday’s program, a specialist from Hackley Community Care will also talk to attendees about trauma.
Throughout the event, there will be a focus on uniting the community—as more people join together, Hunter emphasized, the greater the chance there will be for Muskegon to address trauma and its root causes, including disenfranchisement, poverty, and systemic and institutionalized racism and prejudice.
“The reason we’re marching from Muskegon to Muskegon Heights is about unity; we’re crossing the railroad tracks, the district, the precinct,” Hunter said. “Trauma isn’t just affecting Muskegon or Muskegon Heights. It’s affecting all of us in Muskegon County.”
The Muskegon community has faced numerous shooting deaths in recent years, including youth being shot and killed. At the age of 21, Da’Monte Neal—a new and proud father who was already saving up for his baby girl to attend college—was shot and killed at a house on Orchard Avenue in Muskegon on Jan. 6.
“Kids are dealing with trauma; families are dealing with trauma,” Hunter said. “I just went to the funeral for Tae-Tae [Da’Monte Neal], and the funeral was filled to capacity. There were young people, teachers, coaches, church members, family. That trauma affected more than one person.”
Other younger Muskegon residents who have been victims of violence include J’Mari Harris, who was shot and killed at the age of 16 in 2016; Davion Hewlett, who died after being shot at the age of 15 in 2017; Ja’Mall Kitchens, who was shot and killed at the age of 19 in 2016; Zamarion Cooper, who was fatally shot this past August; and Mervin Bonner, who was shot and killed at the age of 18 this past August.
“This is continuously happening,” Hunter continued, referring to violence. “One of the young people at Pathfinders told me, ‘I had to sleep on the floor last night because my mom said the gunshots are too close.’”
With Saturday’s march, organizers hope to shine a light on the fact that increased resources are needed to address violence and trauma throughout Muskegon, including further supporting organizations that work with youth, such as Pathfinders, and creating additional safe spaces for younger residents to go.
“Michigan’s budget needs to fund places like Pathfinders—places that are grassroots organizations that can get to the heart of the community and invest in those wraparound services that youth need,” Hunter said. “Youth need a place to play basketball, a place to be a kid where you’re not looking over your shoulder, places to dance. Maybe you have autism and need a place where you can feel safe. We need as many programs as we can for youth.”
Following the march, Pathfinders will continue to provide opportunities to address trauma in the community. On April 23, the nonprofit will provide the “Tamir Rice Training,” during which there will be dialogue centered around youth and law enforcement. Former Muskegon Heights Chief of Police Lynne Gill will be the guest speaker.
“We have a problem with officers and young people, and we want to put an end to that problem,” Hunter said. “We want the police departments and young people to be working together and not against one another.”
During the training—which is open to people of all ages—there will be discussion about race and policing, Hunter said.
“How, as a brown/black person do I respond to the police?” Hunter said. “As a brown woman, we have to talk to our children about that.”
“Most policeman aren’t bad; most policewomen aren’t bad, but there’s a mistrust and we want to put an end to that,” she continued. “We want everyone to be united and understand the perspective of each role.”