Flint, MI— For 19 years, a group of friends once involved in street violence host an annual picnic to bring their neighborhood together and promote peace in Flint.

The Stop the Violence Family Picnic is celebrated every year on June 18 and has come to be a well known celebration in the neighborhood surrounding Dort Park. From the first picnic onward, the focus has been to provide positive examples of community gatherings for children.

Shannon Lawler, a founding member of the picnic, said he and his friends were teenagers when they decided to change their lives and start doing community activism. 

“A group of kids 19 years ago turned their lives around and we’ve been doing positive things for the community. We just give back to the community every year. We usually give away a bike or something to a child. It’s really a tradition for us,” Lawler said. 

Lawler said the picnic is not about sitting kids down and telling them violence is bad. Rather, it’s about teaching them “how to have a good time without getting into trouble,” by providing an afternoon filled with free food and child-friendly activities.

At this year’s event, it appeared everyone did have fun.

More than 100 residents sat and ate together while children played in bounce houses, a slime-ball target range, and had a dance competition.

Kenyatta Chattman, 44, of Flint, makes sno-cones for attendees of the Stop the Violence picnic at Dort Park in Flint, Mich. on June 18, 2021. (KT Kanazawich | Flint Beat)

Arion Polk attended the picnic with her one-year-old daughter Noria Mitchner. She said events like these, aimed at educating young children and exposing them to other children are critical for creating social skills and understanding social etiquette.

Arion Polk, 21, and her daughter Noria Mitchner, 1, of Flint, attend the Stop the Violence family picnic on June 18, 2021 at Dort Park. (KT Kanazawich | Flint Beat)

“It’s important to have events like these to keep kids together. When I was growing up, I spent a lot of time around kids my age. This new generation though, they don’t really spend a lot of time outside playing with other kids. These events are important to help kids play with other kids,” Polk said. 

Lawler, who helped organize the event, said he is happy to be able to put the picnic together year after year. 

“I think it’s a really big accomplishment for just a group of guys to keep this going for 19 years in a row,” Lawler said. 

Attendees of the Stop the Violence family picnic gather for a group photo at Dort Park on June 18, 2021. (KT Kanazawich | Flint Beat)
Summer Mull, 15, and Emiya Coffee, 15, of Flint, attend the Stop the Violence picnic at Dort Park in Flint, Mich. on June 18, 2021. (KT Kanazawich | Flint Beat)
Mason Harden, 10, of Flint, stands on the steps of Dort Park for the Stop the Violence picnic on June 18, 2021. (KT Kanazawich | Flint Beat)
Mike Carpenter, 29, of Flint, is the owner of Unique Images Gellyball company. Gellyball is like paintball, but with smaller, jelly filled pellets .He set up this kid friendly target-shooting version of Gellyball at the Stop the Violence family picnic event at Dort Park on June 18, 2021. Gellyball kits are available to rent for parties or group events on his Facebook page Unique Images Gellyball. (KT Kanazawich | Flint Beat)

Santiago Ochoa is Flint Beat's Latinx Community reporter. He is always looking to write about anything Flint or Latinx. He especially enjoys investigative reporting and human-interest stories. A communications...