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New Orleans Gun Vigil Brings Together Grieving Moms, City Mayor

By Jessica Cumberbatch Anderson 

NEW ORLEANS — July 4, 2012, was Independence Day as usual for New Orleans native Chanda Burks. As she’d done almost without exception in recent years, Burks and her three sons, Jared, 17, Vaughn, 11, and Cameron, 7, left their quiet New Orleans neighborhood, Tall Timbers, and headed to the bustling Ernest N. Morial Convention Center downtown. The family would spend the holiday weekend engaging in three days of seminars, interactive workshops and shopping brought to town by the Essence Music Festival.

This year, Burks went to the same venue, but with a different purpose: To grieve with other moms and plead with the public to put an end to the violence that took the life of her 17-year-old son.

“This year is the first year that Jared would have been going to the concerts with me,” Burks told The Huffington Post. Her son was shot and killed during an encounter in the early morning hours of Sept. 15, 2012, she said.

Burks joined New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, the Rev. Al Sharpton and hundreds of other festival attendees, including other mothers who have lost children to gun violence, for a prayer vigil entitled “Love, Loss and Life.”

Essence Acting Managing Editor Vanessa K. Bush described the vigil as an extension of the magazine’s “Guns Down” series, a print and social media initiative aimed at leading conversations on how to stop violence plaguing America’s cities. The event also served as a celebration of the lives of those lost to gun violence in New Orleans, she said.

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu told HuffPost he believes that the problem doesn’t rest squarely on the issue of guns. “The fact is there are millions of people who own guns that are not killing young men in our cities. The same is true of those without jobs and dealing with poverty,” Landrieu wrote in an email. “The conversation is not about gun violence, but instead about the culture of violence that persists in our communities.”

As part of his NOLA FOR LIFE anti-violence strategy, Landrieu’s administration has reportedly doubled the number of summer jobs for youth in the city, created job training and placement services through partnerships with local businesses and universities, and instituted programs like a “midnight basketball” league to help keep young men off of the street.

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