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Flint, MI–As the streets were pelted with pouring rain and rushing wind, around 100 people marched down DuPont Street holding signs with pictures of loved ones who died from violence.
Neighbors waved, greeted, and prayed with the attendees of the 20th annual Unity March June 26 as they marched and handed out flyers.
The Unity March, created by WOW outreach, local churches and more than 30 other community organizations, was created for Flint residents to honor loved ones lost to violence, people grieving about their loved ones lost to violence, as well as perpetrators of violence.
“’It’s not just about those who’ve been affected (by violence) but those who are doing it, because people don’t really realize the effect that it has on the family members,” Omar Young, vice president of WOW Outreach, said. “If someone goes to jail, we pray for those who did the harm. But on the same note, those family members because they have to live and go through the pain as well. That’s the reason why we do this: just to make sure that everyone knows that we’re here for them, on both sides.”
The march lasted approximately two hours, with pauses along the route for speakers and performers. It started at Church Without Walls on Dupont Street and proceeded to Upper Room Missionary Baptist Church on Saginaw Street before looping back.
Kenyetta Dotson is the founder of WOW Outreach and one of the lead organizers of the Annual Unity March. She credits her brother, Martez Warren, former pastor of Church Without Walls, as one of the visionaries of the events who “passed the baton” of planning the event to her 20 years ago.
At the time the event was initially created, Dotson remembers putting out a call to action to the Flint community to draw attention to the violence happening in the city because “there was so much silence.”
During the march, attendees and organizers rushed to houses to pass flyers about the event, greet their neighbors, or take a moment to pray with them.
“I just think there’s too many people who are out there hurting in the world who are right outside our window, right next door to our home, and we let the opportunity pass us by,” Dotson said. “I think we have to love the hell out of people and I think sometimes we’re too afraid to do that.”
WOW Outreach has several community programs, including one for “youth ambassadors,” which provides mentorship and support for participants 13-21 years old aimed at helping them achieve more academically and not fall into violent behavior.
“We want the community to know that we’re here. We do have resources,” Young said. “We can get you to the right people if you need help. … We have social workers on board, we have counselors on board, we have mental health on board. If somebody is grieving, we have someone here to pray for them. So we’re here for them. One hundred percent committed.”