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Dawud Bey (left) and Maleek Jackson (right) stand in front of a boxing glove floral scultpure to commemorate the lives of those lost to gun violence in 2021. Photo: Brittany Valentine | Al Día News
Dawud Bey (left) and Maleek Jackson (right) stand in front of a boxing glove floral scultpure to commemorate the lives of those lost to gun violence in 2021. Photo: Brittany Valentine/Al DÍA News

Philly demonstrators remember 2021’s homicide victims on MLK Jr. Day

Local leaders and advocates gathered at the Wanamaker Building with 550 roses representing each person killed last year.

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In 2014, Philadelphia had recorded fewer than 250 homicides for the second year in a row, and former Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey boldly predicted that the city would soon see fewer than 200 homicides annually. 

But seven years later, Philadelphia has recorded more killings than ever, already doubling the 2014 total. 

On Monday, Jan. 17, local leaders and advocates gathered at The Wanamaker Building near City Hall for a special commemoration of the lives lost to gun violence in 2021. 

Maleek Jackson and Hanif Nelson of Maleek Jackson Fitness Boxing, provided a velvet boxing glove floral statue filled with 555 roses, one for each person killed last year. 

Jackson, who lost three brothers and one nephew to gun violence, opened the boxing gym after becoming involved in a life of crime as a teenager and spending 10 years in prison. 

He created a sponsorship program called “Trust the Process,” where he prepares and provides tutoring sessions for inner-city youth in the area. 

“The hope is that this glove grows smaller, not bigger and bigger. How many kids got killed in 2021? This is people losing their light. This is a life,” Jackson said repeatedly as he plucked roses from the sculpture. 

“We want to reduce gun violence because we were once part of the problem,” said Nelson. “The victims are not only the people who are murdered, the victims are also behind the trigger. They need help.”

Nelson said as a personal trainer and advocate, he is willing and ready to train kids for free, take them out to eat, and give them advice. He also mentioned several local organizations that are doing excellent work to solve these complex issues.

One of the groups Nelson spoke of is the Azzim Dukes Initiative, which makes it possible for Philadelphia children faced with the possibility of gun violence to take weekly boxing lessons, redirect their focus, practice discipline, experience mentorship, and access and achieve positive community ties.

"It's named after my little brother who lost his life at 17. He got murdered in the streets of South Philadelphia. "It's something that I always wanted to do. It wasn't until I recently attended a Janazah (Islamic funeral) of a young kid who was 21,” Jackson told 6ABC last April. 

The Initiative was created in memory of Jackson’s nephew, Azzim Dukes, who was lost to gun violence in 2010. 

Dawud Bey, co-founder of the anti-gun violence nonprofit organization, Put it Down, also spoke on the needs at stake, adding that his son accounts for one of the red roses on the sculpture. 

Bey hopes to see fewer roses next year, but said that a goal like this will require “everyone’s boots on the ground.”

“This is not about race, this is not about class, this is not about religion. This is about coming together as humans and really building a human connection,” he said. 

“It is an issue that’s really traumatizing our community. So we’re offering programs for our young people and some are even adults because we need trauma case management, we have to deal with the human issue,” Bey said. 

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