- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 17, 2004

This is Kenneth Barnes’ third consecutive Father’s Day without his namesake. His son isn’t in Afghanistan or Iraq. His son isn’t out of town on business, either. Kenneth Jr. was killed in September 2001 by an urban terrorist.

A shopkeeper on Washington’s renowned U Street corridor, Kenneth Jr. was killed during a robbery by a punk gunman. The teen-ager was a runaway from a group home — and not just one group home or one escape. James Davon Hill had escaped at least four times from four different homes. Each time Hill escaped, he resumed his life of drugs and violence. On Aug. 22, he killed a man in Northeast Washington. Neither police nor the juvenile authorities appearedinterested in Hill’s whereabouts, so he continued to roam the streets freely. On Sept. 24, a month after he committed a nothing killing, Hill stepped into Kenneth Jr.’s Boutique U and murdered him in cold blood. Hill now is serving a 100-years-plus sentence in a federal penitentiary in Pennsylvania.

The Barnes shooting was one of scores that barely generated news in post-September 11 Washington. My sense, having occasionally spoken with Mr. Barnes, is that he, like any father, deeply misses his son. But unlike many other dads, Mr. Barnes is on a mission to end (or at least stem) the bloodletting and the genocide. We need his help.

Mr. Barnes isn’t looking to the White House or Capitol Hill or even City Hall for solutions. In fact, I think, the best thing policy-makers could do is steer clear of Mr. Barnes and his supporters unless they seek government help — since Uncle Sam’s helping hands often hurt, not help, grass-roots efforts.

Mr. Barnes is admirable for many reasons, mostly because he gives powerbrokers a piece of his mind from time to time. Sometimes, you can tell those powerbrokers and their staff have not done their homework concerning Mr. Barnes, situations that always bring a smile to my face.

One such situation occurred well over a year ago on “Reporter’s Roundtable,” a public affairs show on which I am an unpaid panelist. We queried Mr. Barnes about the nonprofit he organized after his son’s killing, and he chastised city leaders for failing to keep track of his son’s killer and for the slow-churning investigation into the murder. He was blunt and informative, and, as expected, emotional. Well, the show was pulled, ostensibly to give Police Chief Chuck Ramsey and other D.C. officials an opportunity to rebut Mr. Barnes’ accusations. (Smile.)

Since those shows, Mr. Barnes has appeared on network and cable television. He seemed to be everywhere this week, urging a moratorium on urban terrorism in honor of Father’s Day. The messenger never strays from his message: We all must stand united against violence.

Yesterday, at the National Press Club, Mr. Barnes spoke his mind again. This time, the chairman of Reaching Out to Others Together Inc. (www.rootinc.org) was accompanied by dozens of other fathers and mothers — including Chief Ramsey. They will hold several events, including a forum today and a rally on Sunday. But their most strident call is for a moratorium on violence on Father’s Day.

Of course, that clarion call is hardly what was on the mind of Sonora Smart in 1909, when she drummed up the idea of a day to honor fathers. Sonora’s dad was a Civil War veteran who raised his six children after their mother died during child birth. She chose June 19 because that was her dad’s birthday. In 1972, then-President Nixon made its national observance permanent.

There are, to be sure, as many ways to celebrate Father’s Day as there are fathers. But parents know Mr. Barnes is on to something. Ask Marita Michael. She lost her son, Devin Fowlkes, on what had started as an ordinary school day. Devin, a promising student-athlete, was outside Anacostia High School, making his way home, when shots rang out. By the time all was quiet, Devin was mortally wounded. Ms. Michael seemingly speaks on behalf of every mother and father who has lost a child to violence. “Our children did not die in vain … I will never know what it is to become a grandmother … We need to do whatever it takes.”

And so on, so on and so on. One after another. Man to man. Moms locked in arms with dads. Two former adversaries — a police chief and a sullen father. All on point. All moving toward the same goal.

For Kenneth Barnes Sr., this Father’s Day will be no different than the other three he has spent since his son’s life was snuffed out (and I pray God gives him the strength to keep on keeping on). Each of us must do, as Ms. Michael said, “whatever it takes” to curb the urban terrorism — even on Father’s Day.

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