Stop the Violence Project preaches peace

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) - Ten hours after shots were fired downtown, people gathered to bring peace to the area.

The "Stop the Violence Project" stopped by. They spoke to people about the dangers of gang violence, drugs and alcohol.

People were in tears as they were reminded of their own personal experiences. They hope that with events like Saturday's block party, the community can work together to bring change. 

At Beardsley Park children played and people prayed. It was the start of a conversation to stop the violence.

"I have a heart for it because I came out of the streets," Jessie R. Bates, Stop the Violence Project Coordinator, said. "I was raised in the streets and so when God changed my life I had a desire to go back to where I came from and take the message to the streets that you could really, really overcome this thing if you desire."

Bates leads the "Stop the Violence Project" based out of Decatur. When violence went up in his community, he stepped up to change it.

"We've seen the gangs and violence decrease in Decatur tremendously," Bates said. "Well the homicides have decreased tremendously since we started this." 

Now the project's goal is to get similar results in other Central Illinois cities. They host block parties during the summer to give kids something constructive to do.

"I came out to just enjoy the festivities, to enjoy the music and to pray for the land because Champaign really needs prayer," Evangleist Kim Washington said. "All the violence, all the kids getting hurt and everything. Everyone really needs to be prayed for and everyone needs to come together as a whole." 

Just a few weeks ago, a man was shot to death near another Champaign park. Project leaders hope they can prevent other tragedies by reaching one person at a time.

"I went over there because I don't want children to make the same mistakes that I made in my life," Reginald Kyse said. "Especially my young black generation."

"What you saw was spiritual change that was happening on the inside of people," Bates said. "And when people change like that, that's why we got to get that message to drug dealers and gang bangers. We got to get it to people that are perpetrating homicides. We got to get that message to them because they have to be changed from the inside out."

People did more than play and pray today. The project also made a hot meal for everyone, gave out 500 backpacks with school supplies and 500 boxes of groceries from the Midwest Food Bank. 

The next block party is on July 8 in Bloomington.
 

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