DECATUR — Thdoria Echols came to Decatur’s Old King’s Orchard Community Center Sunday night to light a candle in memory of her murdered nephew, and to fight the mindless violence that took his life.
Keith C. Brewer, 29, was shot to death Sept. 3, one of the more recent in a series of Decatur homicides. The gathering at the community center was billed as a forum for people to vent their grief and seek solutions to street violence. Echols, 43, told the gathering of more than 60 people that children and teenagers need parents and members of the community that raises them to be role models, to show them how to live a life free of the violence that reached out and destroyed the life of her precious nephew.
“We could help our kids if we get out there and we role model them right, teach them right,” said Echols, talking to the Herald & Review. “What I would like to see come out of this (community forum) is the idea that all people, regardless of race, sexuality, any of that, can join together to show our kids we can fight this violence. That’s what I would like to see.”
She was not alone. The "Peace in the Streets" forum was hosted at the community center by the “Decatur Defenders,” a group of some 25 people already out on the streets trying to head off bad behaviors — like dropping out of school — that can lead to hopelessness and gang participation.
Defender board members Albert Amos and Alida Graham support the same approach as Echols but were open to all ideas. Talking to an audience that included Macon County Sheriff Tony Brown and community leaders like the Rev. Courtney Carson and Decatur Township Supervisor Lisa Stanley, Graham passed around a microphone shopping for ideas on making Decatur a safer place.
There were many comments along the lines of building stronger families, calling for more parental involvement and giving kids and young people places to go and things to do that keep them away from bad influences.
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Graham said the forum, which lasted from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., was part of a series of meetings in which ideas gathered will be discussed and then attempts made to find resources and venues to make them happen.
Graham said no one was under any illusions that a few community gatherings are going to stamp out shootings and violence, and move Decatur forward into a time of peace. But she said settling for the status quo of rising violence wasn’t acceptable either.
“The Decatur Defenders are about defending peace,” she added. “And we believe at Old King’s Orchard that peace is a human right and people have the right to have peace in their home and peace in their neighborhoods and peace in their community. And what we hear from various people in the inner city is that many of them hear gunshots every night. If we have people living in our community like that, we owe them a response.”
Amos, 62, a former gang member himself who now meets with rival gangs to try to head off violence, said small victories in the great scheme of things can mean an awful lot when you are dealing with human lives.
“If we can bring the violence down a couple of notches, if we can curb the violence, and if we can save a life or two, wouldn’t that be great?” he asked.