GARY — An estimated 2,400 students from eight area high schools filled the bleachers Friday afternoon at the Genesis Center’s Richard Gordon Hatcher Arena to thunderously show their support for the message of love at the Peace Pep Rally.
Organized by Project Outreach and Prevention (POP) on Violence, the rally featured entertainment by the Kruciall Kreatiionz dance troupe, the Jesse White Tumblers and DJs from Hammond-based WPWX Power 92.3 FM radio. It was part of the National Youth Violence Prevention Week that began Monday.
During a saxophone solo of Marvin Sapp’s “Never Would Have Made It,” Devin Dove, 27, of Gary, honored his 15-year-old cousin, Daja Brookshire, who died Aug. 2, 2015, after someone in a passing car shot her in the back near West Seventh Avenue and Adams Street.
Students sang along and used their cellphones’ flashlight apps to provide a salute.
Dr. Mike McGee, chief of emergency medicine at The Methodist Hospitals, founded POP in 2008 after witnessing an increase in teenage violence including blunt trauma, gunshots and stab wounds. In 2012, he partnered with Dr. Reuben Rutland, chief of trauma, to develop the foundation.
“We’re reaching out to you guys,” McGee told the youth. “We are here because we love you. We want to help you help yourselves.”
Rutland lead the students reciting POP’s motto, “Not one more life, one more day.”
The Rev. Michael Pfleger, community activist and pastor of Chicago’s St. Sabina Church, delivered the keynote address, bringing his trademark firebrand style to the stage.
“In 2008, Barack Obama went to the White House and realized the banks were collapsing. America said the banks were too big to fail. The same can be said of you,” Pfleger said.
“You are too great, too valuable to fall,” he said, having the students repeat the phrase “I’m too great, too valuable to fail.”
Pfleger delivered seven life lessons during the rally.
“You form your life. You’re in charge of your future,” he said, emphasizing that young people should never let their current circumstances define them.
“Make decisions and choices with your future in mind. Today comes and goes. Be careful who you hang with,” Pfleger said. “Some people do not deserve to be in your company.”
“Guns are for punks. Guns are for losers,” he said.
“The same thing with drugs. You’re too brilliant to put anything into your body. ... When you know who you are, you wake up ‘high,’ then deal with your business,” Pfleger said, leading the audience in the chant, “God put inside of me everything I need to succeed.”
“Find some adult who can be a mentor to you, who you can open up your heart to,” he said.
“Take advantage of your education. It opens doors, opens possibilities,” Pfleger said. “If you have an education, you can be anybody you want to be.”
“Dream big,” he said. “You got a big God who has put big dreams inside you. There are no limits to your future.”
The Times Media Co. was one of the rally’s sponsors. In keeping with the Civility Counts initiative formed with the Gary Chamber of Commerce, Editor Bob Heisse said, “This is about treating each other right, disagreeing but with no name-calling.”