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East St. Louis holds first-ever youth anti-violence parade and rally

The event started with a parade and was followed by a rally led by educators, business and state leaders.

EAST ST. LOUIS, Ill — Sirens could be heard coming down State Street in East St. Louis as community members paraded for change on Saturday.

Young people marched with a message to end the violence at the first-ever City of Champions Youth Stop the Violence Parade and Rally.

Founder Danielle Moore told 5 On Your Side she wanted to get ahead of summer.

"We have so many youth that have been killed and our hurt. Not just our youth, elderly, everybody. I just wanted to touch these young people, prior to, so that it'll sink in a little bit. We don't need that," Moore said.

Earlier this week, East St. Louis Mayor Robert Eastern highlighted the city's progress during his State of the City Address.

Easter said the city's homicide rate was cut by 50% in the first five months of 2022 compared to last year.

Non-fatal shootings have also dropped another 20%.

Those on the parade route agreed there was still much more work to be done.

“I just really want the violence just to stop. We just need other avenues to channel our anger as opposed to picking up a gun and killing someone else's loved one," said Sukeena Gunner.

Gunner lost her teenage son when he was killed at an after-prom party three years ago. He was a star athlete in the area with a bright future.

“He had already received two D-1 Scholarship offers. He was featured in Sports Illustrated so he was well on his way,” she said.

Reggie Smith, born and raised in East St. Louis, has seen his share of the good and bad.

The success of his sauce business, Pure Heat, he said Saturday, is a testament to what an East St Louis “Champion” can do.

"If you put your mind through it and you take all the street knowledge that you have and you roll that over to some business knowledge, you can do it," he said.

Smith and others hoped the event might show young people they have the support they need to succeed.

“We have great people here. We have great athletes. We have great academic scholars here. We have an array of good people here in the city of East St. Louis so we just need to get those people in order. Get our crime in order," Smith added.

Several speakers including business and state leaders spoke about the importance of education, valuing your mental health and taking advantage of resources for children and families.

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