The scene at Bethune Park in north Minneapolis on Saturday was festive. Children and adults queued up for free hot dogs, face painting and henna decorations.
But the celebration had a serious side, too, drawing people who mourn loved ones lost to gun violence. There were opportunities for attendees to talk with a counselor or spiritual healer.
Community members and activists attended the Guns Down Love Up Unity Festival on Saturday to honor victims of gun violence and to heal together — while also calling for an end to gun violence in the Twin Cities.
"We're no longer going to accept gun violence in our community," said Raeisha Williams, the event's lead organizer. "We're saying 'enough is enough.' "
Williams said she and her family staged the unity festival to bring people together and kick-start community action around gun issues. Her brother, Tyrone Williams, was gunned down in April 2018. He was 33, a father of four and a prominent community activist in north Minneapolis. His killer was sentenced in February to 20 years in prison.
Organizers of the Guns Down Love Up event said the recent spate of gun violence in both Minneapolis and St. Paul has fueled a lot of anxiety and trauma in their communities. But the tragic events, they said, have also galvanized efforts to help.
The Williams family said they launched the Guns Down Love Up campaign in honor of Tyrone and to curb the number of lives being lost to guns through policy changes and community effort.
"Until you are impacted by gun violence you don't understand really the trauma, the ongoing fear that goes along with it," said Kendra Williams Pierson, Tyrone's sister. "We want people to put their guns down and love up because people don't love themselves enough" if they take another person's life.
The event featured live performances by local artists, including some who painted murals. Meanwhile, kids played in a bouncy house and made balloon animals and slime. Event organizers passed out free red-and-white T-shirts bearing the words "Guns Down Love Up."
Marcio Thompson, president of the Epsilon Rho chapter of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity, came with eight of his members to volunteer at the event. Thompson said one of their fraternity friends, who came to the event to share his story, recently suffered gunshot wounds and is still grappling with the effects.
"This event has a value to us," Thompson said. "We want to encourage the youth to understand that their lives matter and that we're here to help support and mentor in any way that we can."
Sisters Saido "Farax" Ahmed and Amran Ahmed, both North Side residents, attended the event with their six children. They said they came to learn more about the campaign and figure out ways they can help their children from getting sidetracked.
"I don't want my kids to be gunned down," Saido Ahmed said.
Faiza Mahamud • 612-673-4203