Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Peace Signs in Paterson Park

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Peace Signs in Paterson Park

Article excerpt

It was playing Simon Says with the kids. Sitting around and shooting the breeze. Having a hot dog. Just another springtime outing in the park.

But for the second time, it also was a critical show of optimism in a city notorious for negativity: More than 500 people from rival- gang neighborhoods mingled during a neighborhood cookout in Paterson on Friday night. And the fact that they did, with no disturbances amid a lot of evident fun, provided more real hope for organizers who framed the event as part of an ongoing lull in lethal hostilities between street gangs.

Police barricades closed off a block-long section of Presidential Boulevard in the 1st Ward for the celebration, which started shortly before 6 p.m. and continued into the darkness.

There was no way to tell exactly how many -- if any -- gang members came to the event. But the look of peace was everywhere: Children bounced around atop large inflatable toys. Boys played basketball. Old men sat at picnic tables and snuck swigs of beer. Families waited in line for free hot dogs. Everyone moved to the music coming from the DJ.

"I saw people there who I [grew] up with who hated each other and they were standing next to each other like it was nothing," said Marshane Beal who grew up in the 1st Ward. "It's a start. It has to start somewhere. If we don't do something, our babies aren't going to live."

"If this is what it is, that's good enough," said Rahshon Dixon, a leader of the Street Keepers grass-roots group and one of the cookout's organizers. "It's mainly for the kids."

Two weeks ago, Dixon and others convened meetings among leaders of the 1st Ward ("down-the-hill") and 4th Ward ("up-the-hill") groups involved in the relentless territorial shootings that have plagued Paterson in recent years, a cycle of violence that community leaders say culminated in last month's drive-by shooting that killed 15-year-old Armoni Sexton, a high school basketball star who many believe would have made it in the NBA. …

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