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Sumner students plant flower garden against crime

THE VILLE – Students at Sumner High School are planting seeds they hope will germinate into a drop in youth homicides.

On Wednesday, Nov. 13, students will plant a flower garden in front of the high school at 4248 Cottage Ave. The flowers will represent the children who have died by gun violence.

The students’ efforts stem from the shooting death of 7-year-old Jurnee Thompson. She was killed in crossfire down the street from Soldan International Studies High School’s football field after a SLPS Public High League football jamboree game. 

The following school week, a teacher asked students, some of who attended the games, what they would like to do about it. 

They came up with a peace march. So, on Sept. 13 amid high temperatures, they set foot across the street onto their Tuskegee Airmen Field. 

Each time they marched full circle around the school, they stopped and bowed their heads, rang a bell and called out the name of each young person who had been killed this year.  

Ray Cummings, vice president of the American Federation of Teachers, described the ceremony Friday at the board of aldermen meeting.

“It was a very moving activity, and it was almost 90 degrees out there, but the students persevered through it all, and I’m very proud of them,” Cummings said.

The students, teachers and their school principal were honored with a resolution sponsored by 4th Ward Alderman Sam Moore. The resolution, along with commemorative copies, was presented by BOA president Lewis Reed, who thanked the students for their endeavors. 

“I feel so inspired to see our young people so on top of it,” Reed said.

He went on anecdotally, “I think about myself when I was in high school, and I was not organizing peace marches. But this type of movement and you all taking this type of initiative is huge, and you are changing lives; and I’m sure you’re going to go on to do even greater things as adults.” 

One of the male students who spoke during the pause in aldermanic deliberations had his own anecdotal message from his father, quoting from the Bible: “If I say to a wicked man, ‘You will surely die’ and not try to dissuade that wicked man from his evil ways, that wicked man will surely die, and I will hold you accountable for it.”

Applying that conviction to the numerous youth homicides that he and his classmates were aware of, presumably at the hands of other youths, he said: “I want to do whatever I can to stop the violence and persuade my brother or sister to do the right thing and live righteous.” 

The students’ campaign against the gun violence touts the motto, “Put down the Glock, clean up the block.”  

According to the school’s freshman history teacher, Keith Northway, the students are using a beaten-down gun as a symbolic garden tool to start breaking ground on the flower garden. 

“I’m really honored to be the leader of these young people and their teachers,” said Sumner Principal Mwalimu Nichols, noting that they did all the work and that he was very proud and supportive. 

According to the resolution, a student named Regina Washington suggested the march to protest gun violence, and she other students got permission to go the principal’s office for permission. Other forming students include Stephon Riggins, Demarsha Carnes and Robin Steed. They then met with Tykese Patton, a freshman student leadership organizer, who joined the group, along with Nick Ford, a senior, who had heard about the idea. 

In recent years, the historic school has faced the possibility of closing, due to drops in attendance. Moore said he was proud of the students who decided to stick with the school and their parents who were bold enough to send them there.

Because of the lack of students, the school’s football team has merged with Soldan’s. 

For the alderman, the students’ ability, character and resolve represent another reason that the school should remain open. 

“We are looking for attendance,” Moore told the board. “And I’m asking my colleagues out there to send somebody down to Sumner High School to join us in our endeavors to bring it back to some of the grandeur that it once was.” 

Bill Beene Bill Beene was born and raised in north St. Louis. He has been a journalist for 12 years. He enjoys cooking and roller skating. He lives in the historic Ville neighborhood.

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