- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 3, 2004

Politicians and preachers, law-enforcement officials and neighbors gathered on the grounds of Faith Tabernacle of Prayer in Southeast yesterday to celebrate Freedom Fest, a day devoted to inclusion and community. The festival also was an opportunity to recognize parents who lost their children to violence in the District.

About 100 people attended the half-day celebration on Alabama Avenue, which included a special prayer for the young and a tribute to Marita Michael, the mother of Devin Fowlkes, the 16-year-old Anacostia High School student who was killed in October; Daniel and Takisha Cromartie, the parents of Chelsea, the 8-year-old who was killed in May in a random shooting at a relative’s home; and Kenneth E. Barnes Sr., who lost his son, Kenneth Jr., to gunfire in 2001.

“This is about people empowering each other to stay focused, keep the peace and stop the violence,” said Ms. Michael, a community activist and the mother of two children.

“We need the community to come together,” she said. “The police need assistance. The [city] council members need assistance. The parents and the teachers need to come together. We all need to be on the same page. We all need to be working for the same purpose” of stopping the violence.

While the sounds of children’s laughter and gospel music resonated throughout the grounds, along with the aromas of hamburgers and hot dogs on the grill, the Rev. Judith Talbert, the founder of Faith Tabernacle of Prayer and sponsor of the event, urged the crowd to gather under a large canopy to begin the program and present personally engraved gifts to each parent.

“Our mission, our goal is to help our children,” she said. “We want to save our youth. This is Freedom Fest and we are on a mission. Today, we are about restoring and repairing.”

D.C. Council member Sandy Allen, Ward 8 Democrat, presented Ms. Michael and Daniel Cromartie with personally engraved brass star keepsakes.

“Chelsea was the star of many lives and an example of how violence has no name,” Miss Allen said. “We need to look into the hearts of our young people. And, we need to look into the heart of our community.”

D.C. Council member Harold Brazil, at-large Democrat, made the presentation to Mr. Barnes, who will receive the Robert Lamb Humanitarian Award later this month at the National Organization of Law Enforcement Executives in Dallas.

“Well, we have good news and bad news,” Mr. Barnes said. “The good news is that the homicide rate is down 20 percent from last year. The bad news is that the homicide rate for youth under the age of 18 is more than it was last year.”

Mr. Barnes attributed the overall decrease in homicides to community involvement and he echoed the words of actor Bill Cosby who has come under fire from the black community for his criticism of blacks in America.

“Some of the things Bill Cosby said are true whether we like how harsh the words may seem,” he said. “We must deal with reality. And the reality is, we need to be in charge of our youth. We cannot expect the government to raise our children. We cannot expect [Metropolitan Police Department] Chief [Charles A.] Ramsey to raise our kids. The community must rise up and say, ‘No more murders.’ ”

Ms. Talbert, who chatted with guests throughout the day and posed for pictures with Chief Ramsey and others, also serves as the executive director of Reintegrating Alternatives Personal Program. The 4-year-old program is designed to help ex-offenders assimilate into mainstream society. Ms. Talbert also said she wanted to host Freedom Fest because it is important for people to know that ex-offenders want to re-invest in their community and make a successful transition.

“Where there is unity, there is strength. And no man is an island,” she said with a smile.

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