- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 17, 2001

Hundreds turned out yesterday for African-American Family Celebration Day at the National Zoo, despite a chilly rain and lingering concerns about security after a shooting at last years event.
More police officers patrolled the grounds to prevent a repeat of what occurred at last years event, which ended in gunfire between two groups of teen-agers.
Most of those attending the long-standing Easter Monday tradition said they werent going to allow last years shooting — which left several children injured — to stand in the way of spending time with one another.
"You cant let things like that stop you from spending time with your family," said Nancy Lyles, a Baltimore resident who brought her two-year-old daugther, Abrea, to the zoo. "This is a day to be with each other, which most of us cant do that often. So we cant have this stop us from being with one another."
Instead, some members of the black community said they will use the incident to stress the importance of family, and urged adults to serve as role models for the children who came to the zoo yesterday.
"That incident should serve as a reminder of how important family is," said Tyrone Parker, executive director of Alliance of Concerned Men.
"But it should not stand in the way of us coming together. We will never allow this event to discourage families to be together on a day like this," Mr. Parker said.
Some of the youngsters who attended yesterdays event agreed.
"That shooting shouldnt make people scared," said Julian Hicks, 13, of Southeast. "You cant ever be scared to go back to a place where something like this has happened. You have to move on."
"To me, it was just another shooting," said Julians friend, DeMaryo Platt, 15, of Hyattsville. "I dont pay any attention to stuff like that anymore. It can happen anywhere."
Mr. Parkers organization and others, including the East of the River Clergy-Police-Community Partnership Inc., rallied more than 150 men who stood at zoo entrances and at the Cleveland Park and Woodley Park Metro stops to greet youngsters and share a message of peace.
"We can show these kids that theyre not alone," said Clifford Bowens, a youth peer leader with East of the River. "We can be like father figures for them and try to reach out to them and point them in a positive direction."
Last year, outside the zoo on Connecticut Avenue, Antoine B. Jones, then 17, fired into a crowd as families made their way to the exit. The shooting wounded seven children. One 14-year-old was shot as he scrambled to protect a toddler.
Jones pleaded guilty last month to seven felony charges, including three counts of assault with intent to commit murder. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison.
This year, zoo officials increased police presence in and around the 163-acre park in Northwest. About 40 police officers from D.C., U.S. Park and National Zoo police departments patrolled the grounds all day to protect the visitors.
Zoo officials said last night that about 12,000 came to the celebration, compared with the 25,000 on the same day last year. Officials blamed the bad weather more than the shootings for the decline in numbers.
For more than 100 years, Easter Monday has been an unofficial day of celebration at the zoo for thousands of black families.
D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams, who stopped by to show his support, said such a celebration builds stronger ties and stability within families. Nothing should interrupt that, he said.
"We cant have our lives be controlled by violence," Mr. Williams said. "If we cant have an event like this in a public zoo, how can we have it in our neighborhoods?"
The atmosphere at the zoo was fun and relaxed as children played around on the grassy field in front of the Reptile House while munching on popcorn and hot dogs. During the celebration, the children listened to storyteller Baba-C recount the history of their heritage, watched magic tricks and hunted for Easter eggs. They also visited with the Easter Bunny.
In the morning, they walked around the zoo and got a chance to watch the giant pandas, Mei Xiang and Tian Tian, play at the Giant Panda House and Jana, the baby giraffe, frolic outside the giraffe exhibit.
"This day gives kids a chance to relax and have some fun," said Wendy Lewis, of Northwest, who brought her two children, Sakeithia, 4, and Deandre, 14 months.
"What this time does first and foremost is strengthens our bond," she said.


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