Cheick Diawara

Cheick Diawara speaks during a Stand 4 Peace anti gun-violence rally in Love park (Bastiaan Slabbers for WHYY)

Two years ago, Alexandria Herrera was heading back home after walking her dog when she saw two men arguing.

“Before I could get to the steps of my house, they started shooting,” she said.

This wasn’t the first time Herrera came face-to-face with gun violence. The 19-year-old can think of at least two other occasions. She always came out unscathed, if only physically.

That’s one reason she came to the Stand 4 Peace at LOVE Park Tuesday evening, which drew about 50 people, including Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney and District Attorney Larry Krasner.

The event was organized by Herrera’s former classmate, Cheick Diawara, 21, and his friend Joar Dahn, 22, after their own encounter with gun violence two weeks ago.

Dahn was at a graduation party at the edge of Finnegan’s Playground on Fathers’ Day, which was cut short by a shooter. Five people were injured and one person, Isiaka Meite, was killed.

“At first I thought it was fireworks that were going off,” said Dahn, who eventually realized the sounds he heard were bullets as bodies started dropping to the ground and people started screaming.

That graduation party shooting would be one of 19 over the course of two days, pushing shootings 13% higher than the same point in 2018.

Diawara narrowly missed the shooting because he had to go to work, but his family was there celebrating his younger brother and cousins’ graduations.

For Diawara’s little brother, Mohamed Diawara, 18, it was the first time he witnessed gun violence — but not the first time his life was touched by it.

In 2017, one of his classmates and fellow football teammates, Jahsun Patton, was shot over Thanksgiving weekend in Harrisburg.

Mohamed Diawara said that was one of the first times he lost someone close to him.

Though turnout for the rally was modest, Cheick Diawara and Dahn said it was about getting young people’s attention, and they plan to make it an annual event.

At the beginning of the rally, Dahn asked the crowd how many people had been negatively impacted by guns and several hands went up, including Herrera’s. When Dahn asked how many people had fired a gun, no one raised their hands.

“I’m preaching to the choir,” Dahn said.

“How many guns have you taken off your block?” Dahn asked the crowd.

Diawara encouraged the young people to go into their communities and encourage their peers to seek alternatives to violence – which he acknowledged isn’t easy.

“You have to talk to the people on the corners that are selling the drugs and you have to meet them in the middle with a solution,” he said.

Diawara said a lot of change-makers already make up the “choir” — they just need to intervene earlier with alternatives.

“Let me pass you a hammer and a nail and let me show you how to fix the wall of a house and this could be your hustle and you could make 30, 40, 60 thousand dollars a year legally,” he said.

This article originally appeared on WHYY.org.

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