Religious leaders, city officials and the public gathered Wednesday to share a message of hope, love, strength and peace in a time of despair for a Kenosha family.
Members of Congregations United to Serve Humanity and the community stood in a light rain in the parking lot of Grace Lutheran Church, 2006 60th St., to offer encouragement to the family of 5-year-old Dakari Weldon, who was fatally shot at a home in the 2000 block of 60th Street Monday.
They held a candlelight vigil in the east parking lot of the church right next to the house where the shooting took place.
“We’ve gathered together this afternoon, because gun violence has happened in this neighborhood,” said Rabbi Dena Feingold of Beth Hillel Temple as she stood with her back to Dakari’s home. “We stand with those who live here and work here. We believe that the Holy One is calling us to unity and peace.
“We believe that the Holy One draws near to us in our fear, and that, when we stand together, we are stronger,” she said.
The Rev. Jonathan Barker of Grace Lutheran Church recited Psalm 34:18 before asking for peace and comfort for the family during “this time of great turbulence.”
Sister Cecilee Karns, of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, not only asked for a “spirit of peace” for the neighborhood surrounding Dakari’s home and the church, but also that the family will be able to “remember the life that was lived and the life that will be had on the other side.”
‘A failure to protect our children’
As the nearly 60 in attendance repeated her words, Feingold led them in a prayer to “make the ground sacred” again after it had been tarnished by “a failure to protect our children.”
“Tonight, we reclaim God’s holy ground. We will seek peace as best we are able,” Feingold said. “We pledge that the life of the dead child will not have been in vain. We give thanks to God for his brief life. We pledge that we will live lives that honor all. We pledge that we will not perpetrate violence.
“We pray for those that have left lethal weapons unsecured. We recognize that we are part of God’s plan. We recognize that we are part of God’s healing and peace. We ask God to heal us and to restore this sacred ground.”
After those in attendance lit their candles, CUSH President the Rev. Kathleen Gloff of Somers United Church of Christ led the crowd in a variation of the traditional hymn “Peace is Flowing Like a River,” stating afterward, “You may extinguish your candles, but keep the flame of hope in your heart.”
Steps to address gun violence
As well as offering prayers for Dakari’s family, officials within the city including NAACP Kenosha Branch President Veronica King have already started thinking of ways to address gun violence in the Kenosha community, with multiple shootings taking place within the last few months.
“Racine and Kenosha now, we’re looking to do another gun buyback, where people, if you turn in a working gun, we give you $100. If you turn in a dead gun, we give you $50. But it gets the guns off the street,” King said at the vigil.
The Racine and Kenosha branches of the NAACP last held a gun buyback in Racine in July 2013 in partnership with the Center for Change and the Kenosha Health Department, which King stated was very successful.
The local branch is still working out the date and the funding for the buyback event, but King said she is hoping to be able to have it later this summer, and to make it as easy as possible for people to turn in their guns.
“No names,” King said, “just drop it off and leave.”
Financial support for the family
Before closing Wednesday’s vigil, Barker implored the public to take time to support Dakari’s family through donations to a GoFundMe page, which had been set up in the hopes of helping the family cover the cost of the child’s funeral.
“We would be really excited to help this family at least have this one little obstacle removed from them because they are certainly having some of the worst days of their life, and we want to be able to support them as a community,” Barker said. “We want to lift them up today. We want to lift them up this week. We want to lift them up in the grief that will be following in the months to come.”
He declared that now, in the dark times following a tragedy, is the time to come together and to show each other love.
“We’re not going to abandon anybody in their grief,” he said. “In these moments that are hard, in these moments that are tragic, my belief as a pastor is that that’s when we especially need to come together and care for one another, and think about how we can bring ever more love into our world.”
The online fundraiser for Dakari’s family can be found by visiting gofundme.com and searching “Long Live Kari.”