Children’s March for Peace in Harlem draws thousands

The 25th annual Children's March for Peace on Wednesday in Manhattan included thousands of children from the Harlem community. Photo Credit: Todd Maisel

This year’s march bore particular weight in the aftermath of the mass shootings last weekend in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, that left 31 people dead.

The 25th annual Children's March for Peace on Wednesday in Manhattan included thousands of children from the Harlem community.
The 25th annual Children’s March for Peace on Wednesday in Manhattan included thousands of children from the Harlem community. Photo Credit: Getty Images / peterspiro

After an elementary schoolgirl was injured by a stray bullet inside her Harlem apartment 25 years ago, staff and students at her school organized a march to ensure  such shootings wouldn’t be accepted as the norm.

That anti-violence march became an annual event, known as the Children’s March for Peace.

On Wednesday, the nonprofit Harlem Children’s Zone led thousands of children, parents and staff members on a march from 117th Street and Adam Clayton Powell Jr.  Boulevard to the Harlem Armory, between West 142nd and 143rd streets, as part of the 25th annual event.

“What do we want? Peace!” attendees chanted, holding signs emblazoned with messages like “Make Love, Not War” and “Let’s Have Peace!”

This year's march bore particular weight in the aftermath of two mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio, that left 31 people dead and more than two dozen people injured this past weekend.
This year’s march bore particular weight in the aftermath of two mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio, that left 31 people dead and more than two dozen people injured this past weekend. Photo Credit: Todd Maisel

“When do we want it? Now!” they shouted.

After the marchers made their way into the armory, Harlem Children’s Zone president Geoffrey Canada addressed the crowd. 

This year’s march bore particular weight in the aftermath of mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, that left 31 people dead and more than two dozen injured this past weekend, he noted.

“Right now, all over this country, people are talking about and thinking about the levels of gun violence in America,” he said. “Their focus on this is coming way later than our decision that,in our community, we wanted to make sure all young people understood that we were going to do everything possible to keep them safe.”

“So we’ve been marching for 25 years,” he explained.

The nonprofit Harlem Children's Zone led the march to the Harlem Armory.
The nonprofit Harlem Children’s Zone led the march to the Harlem Armory. Photo Credit: Todd Maisel

This year’s theme, “A Call to Action,” was a “tribute to Harlem’s history and anti-violence movements of the past,” according to a news release.

After Canada spoke, attendees got a chance to watch a series of student performances, including a marching band, a skit and a dance inspired by Beyoncé’s “Homecoming.”

Following the performances, Harlem Children’s Zone CEO Anne Williams-Isom called on attendees to “be kind to one another” and work to combat violence.

“We don’t have to wait for anybody else. We are here, and we are who we’ve been waiting for,” she said.

“I could see, in the eyes of the people that were watching you [march], inspiration,” she added. “You bring hope to this community.”

Maya Rajamani