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Bringing men together to prevent a violent summer in Grand Rapids

Ex-felons share experience hoping to change the paths of young men.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — “Let's just remember this is the first step, and from here we must make some important motion together so that we can change the direction that this summer is already headed in," a man says to a crowd. "It won’t get fixed by talk, it’ll get fixed by walk.”

It's a packed Martin Luther King Park in Grand Rapids for the Stop the Violence rally. 

One of the men walking the walk is Jermar Sterling. After serving 18 years for armed robbery, he wants to make sure the kids in his neighborhood don’t walk the same path. 

“I’ve been through the trenches in there, so I cried with those prisoners, their uncles, their dads," Sterling says. "They’re rooting for me to get out here and deliver the message to their kids."

Sterling is one of the many men who spoke at the rally. The goal was to have at least 100 men show up. Kent County Commissioner Robert S. Womack organized the event, and says that kind of presence is necessary to make true change in the community.

“A lot of the kids idolize the gangsters of yesterday. But a lot of those guys that they idolize have done 18 and 30 years and they’re going to come back and tell them this is not the life that you want," Womack says. "This is what they want to tell the youth.”

Commissioner Womack says this event is the first of many events that will happen throughout the summer, adding that keeping the conversation ongoing will make the message more likely to stick.

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