- Associated Press - Sunday, November 22, 2015

EL DORADO, Ark. (AP) - A little girl riding her bicycle after school stops by for a friendly chat with an older woman in her neighborhood.

The woman asks the girl about school, her grades, and what she wants to be when she grows up.

“I want to be a doctor … so I can help people and save them,” the girl softly replies.

In a genuine “It Takes a Village” moment, the neighborhood elder offers vigorous words of encouragement as the girl peddles away.

Seconds later, shots ring out as a beef between two drug dealers escalates a half a block away.

Cut to the girl’s bicycle, which is laying on the ground, the back wheel still spinning. She has been shot to death, clipped by a stray bullet in a feud that she had nothing to do with. A little life and dreams of a future as a medical professional snuffed out.

The faces are familiar. The scenario happens all too often. But fortunately, in this case, it is only a dramatization, an introduction to a music video and song with a hard message about violence.

The project is the brainchild of El Dorado resident Orlando Stewart, who wrote the music and lyrics to “Brothers and Sisters, Wake Up,” a plea to end senseless violence and other pathological behaviors that are destructive to the community.

Stewart, a 1987 graduate of El Dorado High School, said he was moved — by divine inspiration — to write the song and punctuate it with a video after the shooting death of 11-year-old Comesico T. Pumphrey in early July.

The boy, who was to have started seventh-grade at Barton Junior High School this semester, was struck by a stray bullet that was fired from nearly a block away as he stood in his grandmother’s front yard.

“When that young boy got killed, God put it on my heart because that was really sad. That could have been you. That could have been me,” Stewart said. “The main reason I wanted to do the video was because a lot of people say, ‘It’ll never happen to me.’ But what if it happens to somebody that you know?”

The El Dorado News-Times (https://bit.ly/1O5qCdg ) reports that Stewart, who at one time had aspirations of being a rapper and singer, began writing poems and songs when he was a teenager.

With money earned from an after-school job, he bought a keyboard, drum machine, and a four-track recorder and taught himself how to play, write, produce and record music.

Stewart became discouraged after receiving rejection letters from several record companies to whom he had sent tapes of his songs and coming across seemingly shady industry people who wanted to charge him for writing songs for other singers.

He gave up on his dreams and eventually sold his music equipment.

Stewart, who now works at El Dorado Chemical Company, dusted off his musical skills and used his talents to contribute to the local Stop the Violence campaign after hearing about the tragic shooting in July.

He said it took him about a month to write and produce “Wake Up,” with help from 19-year-old college student Georgina Flint, who is singing the hook, and John Stokes, owner of the studio where the song was recorded.

The relaxed, piano-heavy groove backing up Stewart’s socially conscious rhymes was arranged intentionally so the song’s message could reach an audience of all ages, he explained.

“I wanted a gospel, churchy feel to it. The main music that kids listen to is rap, so I wanted to do it in rap form, and I wanted a chorus in the background to get the older crowd,” Stewart said.

Shooting the video took longer as Stewart initially experienced difficulty in rounding up people to participate, even after posting his plans and the video shooting schedule on Facebook and asking people to come out to the locations around town.

He admitted that rain may have kept people away the first weekend of shooting, but when he rescheduled a week later, Stewart knew just where to turn.

“I called (El Dorado Alderman) Willie McGhee and asked if he had any Stop the Violence signs or other paraphernalia that we could use,” Stewart said. “He has long led the charge against violence in the community, and he does it for free.”

He said McGhee showed up the following weekend, not only with signs and posters, but also with a small crowd, all of whom filmed the first scenes of the video.

Other recognizable, local faces include former Alderman Tony Henry, community leader Veronica Creer, the El Dorado Police Department, the Southern Belles Dance Company, and the Pee Wee football team of which Pumphrey was a member.

Janis Van Hook, president of Keep El Dorado Beautiful and the St. Louis Restoration Committee, appears at the start of the video with the little girl on the bicycle, who was played by Stewart’s cousin.

“I wanted to do a mini-movie at the beginning of the video to grab people’s attention first. It’s letting people know that a child or anyone anywhere can get killed by a stray bullet,” Stewart said.

To fill in the gaps for other scenes that had been planned, but were not shot do to a lack of participants, Stewart interspersed with clips of an actual brawl that was posted on the Internet.

He said the footage is compelling because it shows a crowd of children and adults fighting. The incident did not occur in El Dorado.

“It was just a random video. It was just to show, man, this is how we look. This is what we look like when we’re acting like this,” Stewart said.

Perhaps the most gripping imagery in the video are photographs of Pumphrey’s smiling, cherubic face and others the community has lost to violence in recent months and years.

Stewart said he was at first hesitant about including the photographs.

“It was a difficult decision, but it was something I wanted to do to touch people’s hearts,” he said. “I asked the family members, and they said it was OK.”

Stewart said that other family members with whom he was unable to reach contacted him later and expressed their appreciation for thinking of their loved ones in the video.

Filming wrapped in October, and Stewart posted the video to his Facebook page on Nov. 1.

It has nearly 13,000 views and thousands of other engagements, including likes, shares and comments.

He said the response has been overwhelming and supportive, adding that he has heard from people in Las Vegas, New York, and California.

“A lot of people said they (burst) out crying. The comments I got from people out of state was even though they didn’t know the people in the video, it helps them to remember loved ones they’ve lost to violence,” he said.

Stewart pointed back to the title of the song as the crux of its message.

“We are brothers and sisters and we need to wake up. We’ve got so much hatred for each other that we don’t want to come together in solidarity in unity, but we’ve got to change some kind of way,” he said.


Information from: El Dorado News-Times, https://www.eldoradonews.com

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