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Community Urged to ‘Wake Up’ From Violence

Rallies in McKeesport, Duquesne will urge young adults to reject hopelessness, turn to peaceful communication

By Jason Togyer
The Tube City Almanac
March 29, 2023
Posted in: Duquesne News, McKeesport and Region News

A video produced by Divine Restoration Church of God in Christ is being used to introduce the “Wake Up!” campaign to Duquesne. Organizers are hoping the message takes root in McKeesport, as well. (YouTube)

Rallies in McKeesport and Duquesne this week will bring together multiple faiths and community organizations in an effort to urge young people to “Wake Up!” from their apathy and work to reduce gun violence.

Walkers will gather at 1:30 p.m. Thursday (March 30) at the Healthy Village Learning Institute, located at the former St. Pius V School, then walk along Versailles Avenue to the Family Dollar store at 3215 Versailles Ave.

“We timed this so that kids would be coming home from school about that time,” says the Rev. Jessica McClure Archer, pastor of Sampson’s Mills Presbyterian Church in White Oak. “We want to tell them, ‘wake up, you’re beautiful, you’re smart.’ We want to speak into the void of hopelessness so many of them are feeling.”

That walk is open to the public.

On Friday, Duquesne School District teachers and staff will attend a separate event being organized by the Rev. Eric Ewell, pastor of Divine Restoration Church of God in Christ and director of continuing education at Penn State Greater Allegheny Campus.

“In all of the communities in the Mon Valley, there’s hopelessness,” Ewell says. “We want to create hope and self worth. When there’s a lack of value placed on human life, the result of that is senseless killings.”

The theme of both events is “Wake Up!,” which local leaders, including Ewell and Archer, hope will take root in the community in the months ahead.

“Our young adults and even our seniors, we need to speak life into the people in the community,” says Ewell, a life-long resident of Duquesne. “All too often people hear how dangerous our communities are, how rough they are, and maybe there is some truth to that — but our communities are still filled with beautiful people, beautiful places and beautiful spaces.”

Ewell says the theme “Wake Up!” was created by one of his parishoners, Tabitha Oliverio, and the idea quickly took hold in the church and then in the surrounding neighborhood.

“We’re asking everyone to get involved,” he says. The church and Duquesne officials have produced a video that includes sports coaches, the city’s mayor, pastors and ordinary citizens.

“I don’t believe anyone is lost or unreachable,” Ewell says.

More than 100 yard signs are going to be placed around Duquesne over the coming weeks, and Ewell is also working to extend the “Wake Up!” campaign to Clairton, West Mifflin and other Mon-Yough communities suffering from gun violence.

The rallies are being held as the United States reels from yet another mass shooting — by one count, the 38th so far in 2023 — at a Christian school in Nashville, Tenn.

“In the next two or three days it will be old news,” Ewell says. “We talked about (the 1999 mass shootings) in Columbine for months and months and months. As a society we now move on very quickly. The world doesn't stop at the loss of human life. We’ve trained people not to stop at the loss of human life.”

The “Wake Up!” campaign is designed to shake local residents out of their desensitization — especially young people who have become used to hearing gun shots in the Versailles Avenue neighborhood, Archer says.

“It’s not OK for our kids to feel that their tomorrows are not promised to them,” she says.

In February, two McKeesport police officers responding to a request for mental health aid were shot by the person they were trying to help. Officer Sean Sluganski was fatally wounded.

Less than a month later, five people were shot — three fatally — in two separate incidents less than a half-mile apart.

“A member of my congregation was in the Family Dollar when Officer (Sean) Sluganski was killed,” Archer says. “We have kids here who go to McKeesport school district, go to Propel McKeesport right on Versailles Avenue. It’s been very hard. It’s so close to them.”

Thursday’s rally is being organized by the McKeesport Area Ministerium, which asked Ewell to attend and for permission to use the “Wake Up!” theme, Archer says.

“Gun violence is at a record high everywhere,” she says. “Every community has seen an uptick of that.”

But the poverty in the Mon Valley only contributes to the violence and the sense of hopelessness, Archer says.

“We can’t pretend that this isn’t traumatizing and re-traumatizing,” she says. “We’re not saying enough. Our churches, synagogues, mosques, we can’t stay in our buidlings. We have to be out in the community telling our young people, we care about you. We’re here with you. Hope is not lost. We want to protect your lives, too, and find ways for people to put down their guns.”

Christians are currently observing Lent and Muslims are observing Ramadan, and Passover begins April 6. Archer says the symbolism of having these rallies during these holy seasons is not lost on the organizations involved.

“In some ways, we’re asking for the Lord to pass over these communities, that there would no longer be death and destruction,” she says.

Ewell says anyone interested in joining the “Wake Up!” campaign or using the material in their organization may contact Divine Restoration Church of God in Christ via its Facebook page.

Jason Togyer is editor of Tube City Almanac and volunteer executive director of Tube City Community Media Inc.

Originally published March 29, 2023.

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