To raise awareness and address the scourge and surge of gun violence around the country as well as throughout Kanawha Valley neighborhoods, a National Gun Violence Prevention Day community block party is scheduled for Friday, June 3, at the corner of Glenwood Avenue and Central Avenue on Charleston’s West Side.
Marking its eighth year today, the 2022 National Gun Violence Prevention Day, also known as National Gun Violence Awareness Day, comes in the wake of recent mass shootings at a Buffalo, New York, grocery store; a Uvalde, Texas, elementary school; and other locations. The event takes place on the first Friday of each June.
The Charleston chapter of the national Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America organization is sponsoring today’s free event, which is scheduled for 3 to 7 p.m. While it will include convivial, customary block party trappings such as food and music, the event will also recognize, remember, and honor the victims of gun violence locally, nationally, and globally.
Deanna McKinney, Charleston City Councilwoman for Ward 6, is the lead coordinator of this afternoon’s block party. She is also a mother who lost her teen-age son to gun violence eight years ago.
On April 23, 2014, while eating pizza with friends, her 19-year-old son, Tymel McKinney, was shot multiple times on the porch of his West Side home by a gunman who had been recently released from jail and was implicated in another West Side shooting. Police arrested and charged Mark Anthony Gaddy, 23, of Detroit and a Charleston juvenile in the shooting.
“Tymel was shot for unknown reasons,” McKinney said. “I was devastated. When I went to the door, I saw smoke and my son lying there, and I blacked out for a minute.”
Tymel died in the hospital later that evening.
“When he didn’t make it, everything was suddenly different for me,” McKinney said. “Nothing looked the same or smelled the same.”
With support of friends and colleagues during her initial grieving period, McKinney decided to honor Tymel’s life and memory and ensure his death hadn’t been in vain. “It ignited something in me. I was lying in bed, wondering who I can go to, what I can do. There was nothing about gun violence being done,” she said.
After delving into what few organized support avenues she could find on her own, McKinney received a text from a Moms Demand Action member. She started to associate and bond with fellow Mothers Demand Action members in Charleston.
“I now do numerous events in the community, trying to bring togetherness,” the councilwoman said. “I believe gun violence starts when we don’t who our neighbors are, and, in some cases, we know each other, but there’s a lack of trust or misunderstanding — and guns are so accessible.
“I find my mission is to connect with youths and young adults and find other ways of prevention,” McKinney said. “It’s hard because there are no resources. Most of these people [who are affected] are young. In my experience, it starts in communities that see the signs but have no resources to help, and when the resources may come, at that point, they’re either dead or in jail for the rest of their lives.
“In order for us to tackle the gun violence, everybody should have the right to be armed, but without knowledge and education about guns, we’re going to have these issues. I deal with kids on a regular basis. I’ve taken guns out of kids’ hands a few times,” she added.
McKinney believes the Gun Violence Prevention Day and similar efforts can reshape communities for the better.
“Going through the community and having a conversation changes way you look it,” she said. “This event is important to me. I want to set an atmosphere of fun and good times, but I also want them to be educated. We are the prevention and the awareness. If you have to use a gun, I understand, but a lot of times you don’t. I’ve been trying to start this conversation for years.”
Those attending today’s gathering are requested to wear orange attire as a visible symbol of support. The color was selected for its use on vests and other apparel worn by hunters for their safety.
Charleston chapter volunteer-members will be on site with educational materials and resources for families.
A grassroots movement
According to the Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America website, the organization is a grassroots movement of more than eight million Americans advocating for public safety measures to reduce gun violence and promote a culture of responsible gun ownership. Shannon Watts, a mother of five, founded the organization by forming a Facebook group the day after the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, in mid-December 2012.
Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America has established a volunteer chapter in every state of the country and Washington, D.C. (Its website links statistical findings that an average of 330 West Virginians die due to guns each year.)
Diane Pendleton, a mother of two and grandmother of four, is affiliated with the Charleston chapter of Moms Demand Action. The South Hills resident said Charleston’s chapter was launched shortly after its national presence started spreading among social media outlets.
“Through social media, I contacted our state chapter lead,” Pendleton said, “and we got together to start our group.”
Pendleton said the Charleston chapter has more than 30 active members. “We don’t meet monthly, but we meet several times a year, planning things such as the block party. We have tabling events we do at schools and places like the Charleston Coliseum and Convention Center. We try to raise awareness by providing these informational tables.
“We focus on gun safety, but, by no means, on taking guns away. We believe strongly in safe gun storage and have lots of educational materials on safe storage.
“We, along with 90% of Americans, just believe guns should not fall into the wrong hands. While tabling, I’ve discovered most everyone agrees on expanding background checks.
“I feel like our generation just failed miserably in the area of gun safety. It’s outrageous. I believe there’s nothing more powerful than a group of mothers who want to protect their children. Even if it seems hopeless, I refuse to believe it is — and our members believe that as well,” Pendleton said.
Tosha Pelfrey of Barboursville serves as West Virginia’s Mothers Demand Action lead coordinator. A mother of two children, ages 4 and 7, Pelfrey joined the nationwide alliance following the 2018 mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School. A gunman killed 17 people and injured 17 others at the Parkland, Florida, school.
“One of my close friends survived the mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas,” Pelfrey recounted. “Of the 17 people total who died, three were in her class. After it occurred, I felt I needed to do something.”
A former school educator, Pelfrey started a Moms Demand Action group in Huntington and later became the statewide lead coordinator. “Something personally happened to someone I love,” she explained. “I felt I needed to do something so something like that wouldn’t happen to somebody else. Unfortunately, it’s continued to happen over and over again.”
She said Wear Orange events have taken place throughout West Virginia in recent years, but this year’s Gun Violence Prevention Day is centered on the West Side.
“Because of COVID-19 and numerous other reasons, we felt it was best just for us to focus our efforts and attention in Charleston,” Pelfrey said. “The area in Charleston where Deanna McKinley lives is so heavily impacted by gun violence, so, as an organization, we felt we needed to support their efforts.”