Downtown Columbia march held May 20. Additional marches scheduled.

By W. Thomas Smith Jr.

G.A.N.G.S. in PEACE held their first of several 2023 marches against violence in central South Carolina, Saturday, May 20, with additional marches scheduled across the Palmetto State throughout the summer months.

Established by Midlands-area pastors, community leaders, and several former gang members all of whom are committed to changing lives, improving neighborhoods, and enhancing a less-than-stellar public image [of former gang leaders turned anti-violence champions], G.A.N.G.S. in PEACE stands for “Getting A New Generation Started in Peace,” according to Pastor Mark Hill, founder of the non-profit organization, Parents Overseeing Planted Seeds.

G.A.N.G.S. in PEACE ambassador Torrean “Slim” Sims says: “There is a better way for us all.”

Pastor Hill agrees. “The May 20 march was and is aimed at stopping all violence, whether it be gun violence, gang violence, or domestic violence,” says Hill. “All of us have got to stop violence, and we have to stop it altogether.”

STOP, in fact, is how G.A.N.G.S. in PEACE billed their march. “We called the march, ‘STOP,’” says Hill.

The May 20 STOP, from the Richland County Courthouse to the steps of the S.C. State House was the first such march led by G.A.N.G.S. in PEACE. But it won’t be the last. A second STOP march is slated for June 30 in the Colony and Bishop neighborhoods in Columbia. STOP marches will follow in Fairfield County, August 5, and the City of Charleston, August 19.

“These men and women are torchbearers for positive change,” says Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott. “G.A.N.G.S. in PEACE leaders clearly recognize how the culture of violence is impacting our kids, and the May 20 STOP march as well as forthcoming marches will serve to inspire all of us and create greater awareness of how we all as friends and neighbors must come together in order to save our children’s futures.”

In a phone conversation earlier this week, Hill said, “Sheriff Lott is a huge help and he is an always-listening ear who – like all of us – desires to see change. He has done so much wonderful work for us and in working together with us. Moreover, he believes in us and believes that change can be had.”

Hill added: “We are trying to build a village where we can bring together true unity where there are no big ‘I’s’ and no small ‘you’s.’ We need to build a force that can really battle the culture of violence that we are in. The marches are a catalyst for that.”

Marches and more, says Hill who points to various other projects currently being facilitated by G.A.N.G.S. in PEACE. For instance, Midnight Hoops basketball is held every Friday and Saturday nights from 10:00 p.m. until 2:00 a.m. at the Richland County Recreation Commission “Rec 2” gymnasium off Farrow Road where 100-plus young people, who might otherwise be aimlessly on the streets, play organized basketball games, eat pizza, pray together, and participate in mentoring programs led by G.A.N.G.S. in PEACE leaders.

“There’s so much more we could do and will do,” said Hill. “But we need funding. We need transportation [vans and buses to pick-up and deliver children to and from their neighborhoods]. And we need friends and supporters to join us in upcoming marches against violence.”

According to Hill, the May 20 marchers were joined by deputies with the Richland County Sheriff’s Department, Columbia Police officers, and Columbia Mayor Daniel Rickenmann among others.

– Pictured (L-R) are May 20 marchers Kelvin Wicks, Edward Tucker, Pastor Mark Hill, Torrean “Slim” Sims, Sheriff Leon Lott, Ricky Dyckes, Tameka Hill, Katrina Grant, [an unknown participant], and Sharif Amenhotep.

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