'Hands up, guns down': Community marches against violence in Atlantic City

ATLANTIC CITY — Dozens of community leaders and residents  at the New Shiloh Baptist Church on Atlantic Avenue Monday to march for an end to the recent violence in the city that has claimed the lives of three local teens.

The "My City Needs Prayer" Movement organized the march and has held prayer sessions at numerous locations across the county every Monday since early July. The events are run by Tamika Floyd, Shalanda Austin and Lonniyell, who declined to give her last name but instead said she and her partners use the last name "the community."

Local leaders got up to speak about the city's challenge at the podium as three body bags were placed on the ground.

"Many mentors are here," Lonniyell said. "I'm looking at some survivors that have been through some stuff. That have seen some bodies in the body bags. That have lived through some abuse. That have went through some hard times, and you're still keeping your heads up." 

"Let's really be honest with each other. The people that we need to affect are not here. We've got to go into those communities, touch those kids and send a loud and clear message," Councilman Marty Small said.

State assemblymen Vince Mazzeo and John Armato also spoke, praising the city for its gathering, but pushing for it to continue past one night. 

"We must learn that we must love each other and not hate," Mazzeo said.

Chants started as the crowd marched down Delaware Avenue including, "Each one reach one," "Hands up, guns down," "Stop your silence, stop the violence," and "We love Atlantic City."

"This community is who I am," said 23 year-old Genesis Hart. "Now to see my age and younger be victims of pointless crimes and dying when we're all supposed to be getting married and having families right now is pretty sad. It breaks my heart."

Hart is in college in New York, but came home for summer break. 

"I felt like I needed to come home to take care of home to make sure that people can live as happy a life as I want to live, too," she said.

The march ended at the baseball field at the Brigantine Boulevard Playground where community members spoke and a final prayer session was held. 

"This is not going to be our last movement. Every month, we will do a movement in different ways so you can see that somebody is going to be consistent," Lonniyell said. "Consistency is what counts."

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