Two empty body bags sat on the sidelines of Atlantic City’s Dolphin Field as children played a few yards away.
“We’ve been carrying out too many young people,” the woman speaking told the crowd. “Too many parents, too many people lost to senseless violence for too long.”
Within two weeks, three young people died in shootings.
But the deaths didn’t begin with Quran Bazemore, Jordan Reaves and Cecy Robles.
Knowing it won’t end with them either is what caused the formation of Monday night’s prayer for the city event.
About 150 people gathered at the football field in the city’s Venice Park section to mourn those who have been lost in years of violence, and talk about ways the community can help.
The community needs to return to the time when neighbors watched out for one another’s children, Shalanda Austin told those gathered.
Neighbors no longer will call out someone else’s child, since it’s seen more as an insult to the parent rather than caring, Austin pointed out.
“We’ve got to stop being afraid, as a community, to step up,” said Loreal Chrisp, known as ElleVintage. “It’s how you respond.”
Her response is to talk to go out into the community and see what they need. She also shares her poetry, using it Monday as a battle cry for those gathered.
“This is how I give back,” she said. “This is how I put my love into the community.”
The woman who organized the event has asked not to have her name printed, stressing that this is about the community, not any one person.
This was needed like medicine when you are ill: “If we keep breeding hate amongst each other, we will not have a solution to solve the sickness.”
Mayor Frank Gilliam said he understands firsthand the hate that can fester after a loved one is killed.
“My mother was murdered by violence,” he said. “Growing up, I wanted to be an individual who to got back at the individuals that took my mother’s life. So, I understand the frustration that people are going through when they are hurting.”
Many in the crowd also understood.
“Grandson.” “Son.” “A grandmother.” “A brother and a nephew.” “Five friends.”
The list of loss came as people were asked to raise their hands if they had a loved one who had died.
“I had my hand up, too,” Atlantic County Prosecutor Damon Tyner told the crowd. “Because those are the people I lost: maybe teammates of mine; maybe classmates of mine. Too many names to name.”
Monday’s was the first prayer vigil in what will be repeated at 6 p.m. over the next three Mondays: next in Pleasantville, then Egg Harbor Township and then Mays Landing.
Mark-Anthony Rassmann has plans for the next eight Tuesdays focusing on Atlantic City.
He plans to have 6 p.m. prayer meets at each of the city’s schools during the remainder of summer.
“God is my source and you are my friends and I care about you,” he told the group. “I care about your children. So who’s going to meet me next week at Uptown.”
The last will be Sept. 10 at the High School.
“It’s not about one individual,” the woman who organized Monday’s event said. “It’s going to take more than one movement for an impact to happen in our city.”