COLUMBIA — "Stop the violence! Peace right now," shouted marchers, picket signs in hand, as they walked toward Boone County Courthouse on Sunday afternoon in honor of the International Day of Peace.
The Community Peace Rally Against Crime and Violence, hosted by the Youth Community Coalition (YC2), Imani Mission Center, Mid Missouri Peace Works, Destiny Hope, First Ward Ambassadors and various other groups, began with a short meeting at Douglass Park. During that initial meeting , YC2 Chairman Heather Windham addressed the large crowd of peace demonstrators.
"We're hoping to reach out to the youth and increase our awareness to the community," Windham said at the gathering. "For the rally, we were able to allow kids from the Juvenile Justice Center to write speeches, all of which spoke out on how there were not a lot of things to do in our city."
Windham also talked about how the community as a whole has had great success with setting up neighborhood watch programs in the area.
The Columbia Police Department was also on hand to help guide the marchers toward the Boone County Courthouse. Interim Police Chief Tom Dresner said cooperation is essential to improving the community.
"Beneath this blue uniform, we're the same as you," Dresner said. "Unless we're together, then we will not have a lawful community."
Various speakers from around the area also spoke about community violence and crime. Speakers included First Ward City Councilman Paul Sturtz, who said Sunday would be an international day of peace in Columbia based on Mayor Darwin Hindman's proclamation.
Many other community members also showed up to speak about their own experiences dealing with violence and crime.
"We need to come together," said Dee Prince, who shared with the crowd her thoughts on crime and violence in her life. "Put down the guns and knives. It's not the answer."
For community activist Jeff Johnson, the key to establishing peace in the streets begins with keeping children in school.
"People do care, we all care," Johnson said. "We must stand together and help one another. We need to keep our youngsters in school to better themselves."
Caritas Habimana, a speaker from Rwanda, also touched on the community's children and on her own experiences with violence.
"You're our future," she said, referring to Columbia youths. "Peace comes from your family and your friends. I love Columbia, because it reminds me so much of my country. Let's be together. Let's hold hands."
Other organizers also had suggestions about how to target and discourage violence.
"We believe peace needs to come from the heart," said Robin Remington, president of the Mid-Missouri Heartland Chapter. "Violence is not an answer. Violence compounds the problem."
Toward the end of the gathering at the courthouse, a small rainbow appeared overhead in the sky. With that, the crowd dispersed and took to the streets of Columbia to hold vigils in high-crime areas and spread awareness of peace.