In an act of community healing, people from Pleasantville and nearby towns marched Saturday from a small park over the Atlantic City Expressway and onto the football field of Pleasantville High School — the scene a week ago of senseless violence that left a 10-year-old football fan fatally shot, two wounded, and six under arrest.
“Each one, reach one,” the marchers chanted. “Hands up, guns down. Prayers up, guns down.”
The march was organized by Lonniyell Sykes, an activist who said she is known in the area as "Lonniyell the Community.” A Pleasantville High grad who now lives in Egg Harbor Township, Sykes said she wanted to help the community move beyond the violence.
“If I can have one person turn their mind from having guns or being in a violent situation, to transform their life, then I have done my job,” she said.
The march, which included elected officials, school leaders, and students, came in response to gunfire during a state playoff game Nov. 15 between Pleasantville and Camden High Schools. One of the victims, 10-year-old Micah “Dew” Tennant, a fifth grader at Atlantic City’s Uptown School Complex, died Wednesday.
All six men were charged with weapons offenses, including Abdullah, who had a handgun in his pants when he was shot. Wyatt also has been charged with murder and attempted murder.
Authorities have said the shooting might have stemmed from a prior Atlantic City homicide.
A 15-year-old who was shot was treated and released.
Saturday’s march attracted 100 to 200 people. As they walked and talked, healing was a theme. So was disgust at the pain that guns have caused in their community and the nation. Several praised area police officers for the role they played during the shooting and the support they showed the marchers.
Post-shooting marches and vigils are an all-too-familiar ritual in communities roiled by violence. Kaleem Shabazz, a member of the Atlantic City Council and president of the Atlantic City branch of the NAACP, said he hoped this one would bring people together. “This is like a catharsis for people who want to do something,” he said. Other efforts to engage religious groups and provide more resources to combat violence are in the works, he said.
“We’ve got to stop the cycle of retribution and revenge,” he said. He wanted to drive home the point to young people that a shooting at a public event that killed a child was “totally abnormal” and unacceptable.
Nate Evans Jr., a Pleasantville native who runs a youth mentoring program, said he felt sick when he heard about the shooting. He hoped Saturday’s solidarity would lead to action. “If we don’t do something outside of today, this will continue to happen,” he said.
One of the most moving speeches came from a student who introduced himself by saying, “I am JROTC Cadet Christopher Wright and I am your freshman class vice president, varsity teammate, and brother to a strengthened Pleasantville Greyhound football team.”
Speaking fast and barely loud enough to be heard as he read from his phone, Wright said he was on the field during the “violent nightmare.” He said: “Life froze and flashed right before our very eyes. It felt as though we could not run fast enough to safety. … As tears filled my eyes and my heartbeat raced, I looked up and saw my frantic community being stripped of celebrating.”
After saying, “Rest in heaven, Lil Dew,” he turned to how destructive guns and recklessness can be. “Let’s not be complicit with a norm,” he said. “Let’s change the front pages from negative to positive. Save us. Help us to succeed. Help us not to accept gun violence as normal!”
Wearing a football sweatshirt, Pleasantville’s interim superintendent, Dennis J. Anderson, apologized to the young people in the crowd. “Somewhere along the line,” he said, “my generation has failed you.” He encouraged the younger people to “make a better world.”
Another student, Khaliyah Haraksin, freshman class president, said she wants everyone in her community to be able to feel safe. “This was adults taking their feud to our football field,” she said. A boy died, but, she said, “we all know it could have been any of us that day. … We need to tell people to put their guns down.”