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Community leaders work together to support Belt Atlantic neighbors after murder

Community leaders work together to support Belt Atlantic neighbors after murder
Posted at 5:12 PM, Dec 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-02 18:18:09-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- Activists and city leaders are coming together to support a community in crisis. People who live in the Belt Atlantic Apartments have experienced another tragedy after a robbery-turned-murder left a man dead Wednesday.

Following the incident, advocate Cruz Sherman said he was faced with two options.

“You can either be a part of the solution or you can be a part of the problem," he said. “And I chose to be a part of the solution.”

Sherman is the founder of "Virginians in Action." He said he was heartbroken to learn that 24-year-old Aaron Walker was killed in the apartment complex earlier this week. Sherman said he immediately wanted to help.

“We were out here yesterday with the Richmond Police Department and their care community officers," Sherman said. "And we went door to door talking to the residents, and quite honestly, many of them are quite alarmed about what is going on.”

What's even more alarming he said, is the suspects facing charges in Walker's murder are four teenagers from Richmond. One of them has been identified as 18-year-old Rondell Davis. Police said the other three suspects include another male teen and two 16-year-old girls.

“The hardest part is the concern for the young people," said Sherri Robinson.

Robinson said she's been advocating for the people of Belt Atlantic since 2005 and frequently connects them with local support.

“You have to bring resources to people," Robinson said. “Whether it’s food, whether it’s the trauma of the death of a loved one.”

Sadly, the neighborhood is all too familiar with losing loved ones. In April, 30-year-old Sharnez Hill and her three-month-old baby girl were shot and killed at Belt Atlantic. Three other people were wounded but survived.

“It's unfortunate that we have to be here again probably less than eight months for another tragedy," Sherman said.

Richmond Councilwoman Stephanie Lynch, who represents Belt Atlantic's district, said repeated cycles of violence should be revealing.

“Hurt people hurt people," Lynch said. "These issues that we see in our communities are really just core indicators that we have trauma and hurt that's never been processed or resolved."

Lynch said a big part of addressing mental health challenges caused by violence includes more investment into the city's young people.

"When we wrap our arms around our youth, and we infuse caring adults [including] mentorship programming, sports and athletic programming, after school and out of school time activities, it gives a sense of hope for these youth," she said.

The councilmember said the $1.5 million dollars the city received from federal COVID-19 relief funding and allocated to preventing gun violence is just a first step but not enough.

Lynch also recognized the changes needed so badly will take time.

"This is years and years and years of systemic issues that we are now seeing the result of," she said "And it's going to take us a long time to unwind ourselves out of it."

In the meantime, she calls on police, schools, and community organizations to work together, not in silos, to take action. A public meeting will be held December 9 at New Life Deliverance Tabernacle on Decatur Street at 5:00 p.m. Members of the community will express their concerns, and other individuals and leaders will be tasked with providing trauma support and other helpful resources.

"This is not a time to converse," Lynch said "This is not a time to talk about what we could and can't do. We need a plan. It's got to be actionable.”

Even under tragic circumstances, activists said they will continue to love on their city and find purpose in doing so.

“It’s just a joy to be here to be able to support a community who is in such a great need,” Robinson said. "The wholeness of this is just to build relationships with them to make the community a better place for them to live and feel safe."