GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A rally was held Saturday night at Martin Luther King Park on Grand Rapids’ southeast side to put an end to the violence in the city. 

The rally was organized by Kent Co. Commissioner Robert S. Womack following a shooting last week which resulted in the death of 15-year-old Ju’Qwon Calvin. 

Womack challenged men in the community to show up to the “Stop the Violence” rally and help steer the city’s youth in the right path. 

“Very important that men come and talk to these young men because a lot of young men think violence is a passageway to being a real man, and we’re here to put that myth to bed,” Womack said. 

Will Braylock, Calvin’s cousin, was compelled to speak at today’s rally. He hopes his family’s grief can change another young person’s life for the better. 

“Not only was he taken from us, but he was also taken from the community,” Braylock said. “To be a part of something that’s part of someone else not causing that pain to another family, is what drew me out (to speak).”

Religious leaders and elected officials were among the speakers. Former felons who were caught up in the street life were in attendance and spoke, promoting a non-violent message with the hope of steering kids in the right direction in life. 

“It registers to them different when it comes from somebody in inner city neighborhood,” says Jermar Sterling, who was incarcerated for 18 years for his involvement in a murder. He showed kids at the gathering newspaper articles of his past. 

“Letting them kids know, don’t be the storyline, you’re going to be dead, go to prison or other person is going to tell on you about it,” Sterling said. “I spent 18 years of my life in there. I’m out here trying to save as many lives as possible.”

Womack says people with a story like Sterling’s can have a big impact on youth. 

“I see a lot of non-profits with the best intention but the kids they’re trying to reach, they can’t reach without help of ex-felons,” Womack said. “Some of these non-profits are afraid to work with ex-felons and people in the street.”

The goal of the event was to inspire men to take part in programs that will encourage kids to stay clear of trouble. With men like Sterling spreading a positive message, Womack hopes the violence in Grand Rapids can be reduced. A record-high 38 homicides were committed in Grand Rapids in 2020