Residents unite to denounce gun violence

Hugs, tears, and stories were shared at The Bronx Documentary Center in Melrose in March, as anti-violence advocates hosted “A Night of Remembrance,” in honor of loved ones lost to gun violence.

Anti-violence activists Cassandra Ayala and Bernard Smith at the Bronx Documentary Center on
Anti-violence activists Cassandra Ayala and Bernard Smith at the Bronx Documentary Center on March 6.

Family members of victims share pain and hope

Hugs, tears, and stories were shared at The Bronx Documentary Center on Courtland Street on a Friday evening in March, as anti-violence advocates hosted “A Night of Remembrance,” in honor of loved ones lost to gun violence.

Bernard Smith, founder of Stop the Violence, and Cassandra Ayala, director of the youth support group United Playaz, led the event.

“When you kill one person, you’re killing a family,” Smith told the audience. His son, Arnold Smith Williams, was fatally shot on August 23, 2000. He was 19. Soon after, the boy’s grandmother died from stress-related ailments, Smith said.

Ayala, who has run United Playaz for over eight years, lost a family member to street violence last year, she told the gathering. Her stepson, Jonathan Santana, was killed in front of her house on September 1, 2014. He was 26.

United Playaz, which meets once a week in Morissania, is dedicated to encouraging young people to stay clear of violence and to do good in their communities. The purpose of the group is to help teens  “find themselves and feel empowered,” said Ayala, adding they can “learn to have control over themselves.”

Michael Kamber, a co-founder of the Documentary Center, noted that there were three fatal shootings in the neighborhood last year. “All We Got,” an exhibit of photographs by documentary photographer Carlos Javier Ortiz, depicting youth violence, opened on the evening of the event and will be on view through March 21.

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