EAST CHICAGO — Dvontai "Ronamoe" Wright, 25, was celebrating a cousin’s birthday outside a Gary nightclub the night he was gunned down in a February 2017 shootout. 

"He was a father of two and he was a funny, silly guy," said Wright's mother, Tanesha Wright, of East Chicago. 

Wright's two sons — now ages 3 and 5 — were always attached to his hip, she said. 

Honoring her son's memory was always important to Tanesha Wright, so she came up with the idea to host “Ronamoe Day," an anti-violence rally and picnic, on Saturday at Nunez Park in his hometown of East Chicago. 

But the day is not about her son alone, she said. It's also about connecting other grieving families who lost loved ones to gun violence. 

"This is about bringing the community together," she said, wearing a blue T-shirt that read "R.I.H. Ronamoe." 

The event drew more than 150 people to the park, where teens participated in a 3-on-3 basketball tournament while their younger siblings played in bouncy castles and families talked over barbecue and ice cream. 

Dvontai Wright's 2017 fatal shooting marked Gary's sixth homicide that year, and the 10th in Lake County.

This year, the city of Gary is grappling with a rise in homicides, having tallied its 30th homicide so far this year — a figure that pushed the city more than 16 percent above last year's homicide levels.

While Gary has had its fair share of fatal shootings, other communities in Lake County are not immune, said Pamela Yarbrought-Newson, who lost her son Iyuan Yarbrought to a shooting in Hammond in 2016. Hammond and East Chicago have each experienced three fatal shootings so far this year. 

"It's everywhere. Gun violence doesn't care who you are or where you go," Yarbrought-Newson said. "And people may think these marches or rallies, they don't change a thing, but if I can reach one person, maybe I can make a difference," she added. 

Yarbrought-Newson helps organize a social media support group called Healing Hearts, designed to aid families impacted by gun violence. A prayer group is also held once a month at New Greater Faith Church in Gary. 

Andre "Foe Foe" Avington, 31, of East Chicago, said he and Wright grew up together "from Pampers on up." 

"If we got into a fight, we shook hands and called it a day," he said. "I miss him. I ain't been the same since." 

Tanesha Wright said the city of East Chicago, the Foundations of East Chicago, and others donated $400 to help cover expenses for the event.

Plants were also available for families to take home and name in a loved one's memory. E'Twaun Moore, the NBA basketball player who hails form East Chicago, helped with the purchase of the plants, Wright said. 

To learn more about Yarbrought-Newson's Healing Hearts support group, email newson.pamela@yahoo.com or call 219-292-0476.  

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Northlake County Reporter

Lauren covers North Lake County government, breaking news, crime and environmental issues for The Times. She previously worked at The Herald-News in Joliet. She holds a master’s degree in Public Affairs Reporting.