CHESTER — One hundred forty four tee shirts bearing the names of city residents who lost their lives to gun violence since 2009 made for an emotional and overwhelming sight for those traveling down ninth street this past weekend.
Erected Saturday on the grounds of Chester Eastside Ministries at Ninth and Upland streets, the dedication of the “Memorial to Lives Lost to Gun Violence” took place Sunday and featured a host of speakers.
“This is not a happy occasion,” said Chester Eastside Ministries Pastor the Rev. Bernice Warren. “These T-shirts represent human lives. We are really glad that the community has come out for this somber occasion. Look at these T-shirts and you realize the tragedy of it all. They are our mothers, sisters, brothers, fathers, grandchildren and friends. They are all our children. This madness has to stop.”
Sponsored by the Chester Delaware County Chapter of Heeding God’s Call, the event was co-organized by Pastor Anita Littleton of Chester’s Refuge in Christ Church and Fran Stier of the Ohev Shalom Synagogue in Wallingford.
“We are very pleased at the turnout today,” said Stier. “It is time people realize that there is a great need for gun control. Do you know that the city of Chester has more murders in one year than the entire country of Ireland? It is because the gun laws in the state of Pennsylvania are too lax. There are not enough controls in place to stop straw purchases.”
Standing with tears streaming down her face, Chester resident Delores Banks Strand, spoke of her three sons, who were all lost to gun violence on the streets of Chester. Her oldest son, Calvin Banks, was shot and killed at the age of 17 in 1993; her middle son, Duane Banks, was killed in 2006 at the age of 31; and her youngest son, Marckus Banks, was murdered in 2013 at the age of 32.
“I struggle every day,” Strand said. “I only had three children and they are all gone. I wake up every morning with them on my mind and there is nothing I can do. They are right here with me and I’m still standing.”
Heeding God’s Call member Yancy Harrell, who lost his son to gun violence, told those in attendance that they should ask themselves what they are going to do to get involved.
“This is your neighborhood, your people,” Yancy said. “The names on these shirts might be those of your son or daughter, or the only child of someone you know. These people will never have a graduation, wedding or children of their own. Think about that before it crosses your doorstep.”
Terry Rumsey of Delaware County United for Sensible Gun Policy, expressed appreciation and congratulated the Chester Chapter of Heeding God’s Call for installing a visual reminder of gun violence.
“All the stats in the world cannot measure up to what they have put out here on the lawn of Chester Eastside Ministries,” Rumsey said. “This will remind each and every person who drives by here and all the political officials of what we need to do going into the future.”
Rumsey said his group is dedicated to changing gun laws. He added that a walk and rally for universal background checks will begin 10 a.m. Saturday at the Calvary Baptist Church, 1616 W. Second Street, go down Ninth Street to the memorial at Chester Eastside and on to the Providence Friends Meeting House in Media.
Littleton said the creation of the display has been exceptionally overwhelming for her. She added that a school teacher stopped to see the display and said several of her students names were on the shirts.