Important Disclaimer

Since I currently have several employers/supervisors/churches/etc., please know that none of the words on my blog represent them or their beliefs. This blog is my own creation.

It also does not represent my children's perspective, nor my mother's; they think I am funny, but misguided.
(Quick update: only my mother thinks I'm funny now.)

Friday, May 2, 2014

Even There Thy Hand Shall Lead Me

"For to dare to hope to become--to dare to trust the changing light--is to surrender the dream of safety. It means doing one's utmost not to hide from the question perpetually in the eyes of one's lovers or one's children. It means accepting that those who love you (and those who do not love you) see far better than you will ever see yourself. It means accepting the terms of the contract that you signed at birth, the master copy of which contract is in the vaults of Death. These ruthless terms, it seems to me, make love and life and freedom real: whoever fears to die also fears to live. Whoever fears to die also imagines--must imagine--that another can die in his place..."

~James Baldwin, The Evidence of Things Not Seen

Yesterday, May 1, was the National Day of Prayer. I am a member of UMIO (United Mercer Interfaith Organization), an organization focused on gathering with people of faith around justice and peace in Mercer County. Last night we gathered with Shiloh Baptist Church to pray on their steps for the victims of violence in Trenton. There have been 11 murders this year within the city limits--4 alone in April.

After our communal prayer, several of us went out into the community to visit the sites where all 11 men were murdered in Trenton this year so far. It took 3 hours to make our way, stopping to pray at
each location, to remember the name of each man who died, to pour out oil and anoint these spaces of violence, praying for peace and reconciliation and love and joy and safety for the people who live and work in those spaces.

Rev. Lukata Mjumbe, Organizer for UMIO, guided us through all 11 sites, gathering names and faces and whatever information we could gather. I took a few pictures as we walked and prayed. I'm combining Lukata's prayer sheet with my photos and some additional information from Homicide Watch Trenton. If you see any errors in the information, please let me know and I will make corrections. The pictures are not a documentation of where the murders took place, but are pictures of the community in and around those sites. I suppose I just want you to know that these are ordinary spaces that most of us find ourselves in: homes, liquor stores, corner stores, clubs, laundromats, and out in nature. Violence touches all of us, no matter where we spend our time. We are none of us exempt.

We walked and prayed for these 11 men, their families and friends, our beloved Trenton community, and yes, for the people who murdered them. We invite you to walk along with us through these photos and descriptions. Pray for our people. Pray for our community. Pray for yourselves. We are all connected--their blood is our blood; the voice of our brothers' blood is crying out to the Lord from the ground.

At our first stop, two men were murdered within feet of each other.

Charles "X" White, who was 43 years old, was shot in the head on March 8 and died that day. Several others were shot at the same time during an altercation in a club.

Joseph "Power God" Gaines, who was 44 years old, was shot nearby the same club while sitting in his car on March 9. He died a month later on April 3.

We prayed for both men with love, without reservation, without judgment.

Rev. Darrell Armstrong, from Shiloh Baptist Church, poured out oil on the ground, and we gathered back into vans to go to the next site.

As I walked back to the van, I noticed several murals on a corner store:

At the bottom of the mural was the name Tamrah Leonard, with the dates of her life. She wasn't part of our prayer walk, but she was one of several murals on the store walls. Tamrah was 13 when she was killed in 2009 by a spray of bullets. The man who killed her was only 18 himself. 

We wandered on to the home of Dwelle Jerome "Snub" Clark, who was 55 years old. He was stabbed by his partner on February 18 in a domestic violence dispute and died three days later.

We stopped and prayed in front of his home. I listened to the pieces of Snubs' story that Rev. Atchison was able to share, having known the family. I winced, knowing that intimate violence has been a strong feature in my own life. There is no reason to think my story will end differently than his--so many of us share this narrative. He left behind children who cared for him. And he left behind a partner who killed him in anger. How do we not weep all day long with the sorrows of this world?

As we walked along, a woman in our group knew the family of Cagney Roberts, a 19 year old man shot outside of a mini market on April 9. She told them we were here and what we were doing, and the child's parents came out to join us with neighbors. We prayed with them. We wept with them. We sang with them. 

A beautiful child. So much grief. Only 5 years older than my own son.

His mother met us at the mini market where we prayed a prayer of protection over that space, the owners, the employees, and all those who come in and out of those doors.

And now it was late, just with 4 men. The sun had gone down, and the air gone chill.

We drove on to the 100 block of another street. Only there was no 100 block on this dead end street, just a row of mostly abandoned houses and a creek. 

Chevin Burgess was killed on January 4, shot and then set on fire in a burning car. We didn't have a photo last night of Chevin, and we weren't sure how to pronounce his name even. But I found an obituary that says he was a talented baseball player, and that he leaves behind his mother and a son who loved him dearly, and 14 other people who left condolences. He was 22 years old.

And now we moved on through the city to a liquor store, where Keyon Wade was killed on January 18. We went, not in chronological order, but in a route through the city that you could easily walk. A quarter mile here. A half mile there. Trenton is not a large city.

Keyon Shontel Wade was 39 years old and killed in front of a liquor store. Of all the places we went, this was the loudest. Most of the rest of the city was quiet last night. We took turns praying in the different sites, and here I prayed for Keyon. Rev. Armstrong poured out oil. People were surprised to see us here. More than one person nearly dropped their purchases coming out the door.

And now they started to blur together, the streets, the faces, the names. I was grateful this morning that I had taken pictures and a few notes. I don't want these men to blur together--each life had meaning and worth, joy and love and sorrows aplenty. I am sorry I did not know them.

It was so dark on this corner where Jahmir Hall was shot on April 19. He was 24 years old. How do we reconcile a neighborhood full of front porches where the people are afraid to sit on them? How do we explain to our children why this happens? And trust me, they know it happens. Our youth are afraid.

So much light and life on this block. How does one of our children end up shot and dying underneath a pickup truck?

And then on to another food mart where Julio Cesar Cruz was beaten outside his home and then thrown to the ground. His head hit a cement wall, and he died on February 15. He was 18 years old.

The men who killed him were robbing him for groceries it seems. He had been in the United States for 45 days, coming here to live with family from Guatemala, looking for work. 

Julio was 18 years old.

Across the street was a dress shop. Normal, everyday places with normal, everyday people.

And then on, terribly on, because that was only 8. Only 8! When one is too many.

Another store where Rahiem Hayes was shot on April 9.

It seems he was shot near the store and then ran into a nearby home, where he later died. A woman found him in the house at noon the next day and called the police. How do you go back home after that? All of these beautiful men, lost to us. How do we go on after this? Rahiem was 34.

Then off to the Island section of town, where the houses come up against the river. It's a bit of a distance between Rahiem and Keyaan--we took the highway to the other side of town. If we had tried to walk, it would have taken 2 hours. Not all of us could have walked that far easily. But still, Trenton is not a large town. A few minutes later we came to the Island.

It floods easily there, so what is a few more tears?

Keyaan Lee Young, 25 years old, found shot to death on a street corner filled with graceful old homes and beautiful landscape. Right near the river. By now I can barely take it all in, and I think that's how we should feel. January 6, the second murder of the year. The second to last man we pray for now on May 1.

I wonder who loves this man with the eyes that stare out of the photo. I wonder who lives in this house, cares for this tree. Did they know each other? What can we do if we do not know each other?

A short drive up the street to the place where Aaron Lewis was murdered on April 24. He is the last on our journey, and the most recent to be killed in Trenton.

23 years old, this barely grown man. I want to ask him about his tattoos. I want to know why he was sad in this picture. The papers said his body was found behind a liquor store, but he was behind a laundromat. And not behind, like in an alley, no he was found shot to death up an unlit path to the canal that runs behind this neighborhood.

I ride my bike through this canal path often. A different section, a few miles away, but no less isolated. And connected all the same. I can't quite get my mind wrapped around dying in this way, taken into the woods and left to die alone. My thoughts approach it and shy away. How do we live after we know this is possible? 23 years old.

We prayed here and poured oil. We prayed for ourselves too and how we might be part of the healing in our community. I prayed, as I stood there, for those who come to wash their clothes. I prayed for the owners, just trying to keep afloat. I prayed for those who do this violence, because they do not come away unscathed either. 

I don't know where we go from here, or how to be useful, or if we have the courage to change ourselves and our community. I hope so. For our children, I hope so.

May the words of our mouths, and the meditations of our hearts, 
be acceptable unto thee, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer.

May we find peace in the night.



  1. Powerful about the value of the life of every human being. Sin has ruined the relationships with each other and with God. There's coming a day...!

  2. Peace be with you and the sorrows that you hold for us all. Here is a poem I found after I read your photo journal here, from my home in Oregon...

    I love the dark hours of my being.
    My mind deepens into them.
    There I can find as in old letters,
    The days of my life, already lived,
    and held like a legend, and understood.

    Then the knowing comes: I can open
    to another life that's wide and timeless.

    So I am sometimes like a tree
    rustling over a gravesite
    and making real the dream
    of the one its living roots

    a dream once lost
    among the sorrows and song.

    ~~Rainer Maria Rilke (translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy)


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