Katherine Sime, youth director of Cameron Community Ministries, speaks about the history of the 5th Annual Peace Walk. The event was planned by kids in the after school program after a spate of neighborhood shootings five years ago prevented them from playing outside.
The children of Cameron Community Ministries’ After School Program marched May 18 for peace and for their right to play in a safe neighborhood. Hosting their 5th annual Peace Walk in the Lyell Otis Neighborhood, children at the Rochester nonprofit are all too familiar with violence on their streets.

Partnering with the Healthi Kids Coalition, an initiative of Common Ground Health, and the Lyell Otis Neighborhood Association, the kids hosted the annual walk to call for a safer neighborhood.

“Today our kids are standing up for change in their very own community,” said Cameron's Youth Director Katherine Sime. “By teaching our students how to speak out, Cameron Community Ministries staff hopes this event raises awareness of the need for safer spaces in this neighborhood and throughout the city.”

The walk began in 2013 after a string of shootings in the neighborhood caused staff to bring students in from the playground during their after school program. Kids and staff decided they wanted to do something in response. They made signs that read, “Keep us safe, let us play” and wrote poems about why peace is important to them. Wearing t-shirts that called for peace, the kids marched down Lyell Avenue, and the annual Peace Walk was launched.

This year’s Peace Walk went from Cameron Community Ministries down Lyell Avenue to the library and back. Marchers wore t-shirts saying “Keep my neighborhood safe. It’s my right to play!” and were escorted by the Rochester Police Department. After the march, children ages 5-12 years old shared their thoughts on how violence in their neighborhoods has affected them and why it is important for them to take a stand for peace:

“I’m walking in the peace walk for this community because I want people to stop violence and love each other. This is not just affecting me, but everyone, because people lose their family members every other week.” – Ysland, 11 years old.

“I need a safe place to play because shootings make me sad. One day I will change the law to help our city.” – Jadiel, 7 years old. 

Kaylee Vo, 9, marched in Cameron Community Ministries 5th Annual Peace Walk May 18 and performed a song after the walk finished.

Studies from Healthi Kids have demonstrated that crime and neighborhood perceptions of safety are key barriers to walking, biking and playing in several city neighborhoods. Research shows play is vital to the physical, social and emotional development of children. The Healthi Kids Coalition’s “Play ROCs” campaign aims to build a culture of play in Rochester by advocating for safer, more accessible places to play at schools and in neighborhoods.

“Every child has the right to play, but issues of neighborhood safety across the city deter parents from letting their kids play outside,” said Jenn Beideman, Healthi Kids policy and research associate. “In fact, our data demonstrate that kids in this neighborhood experience a violent crime rate that is 60 percent higher than the rest of the city, and 6.5 times higher than the suburbs. By improving neighborhood safety we can address one of the main barriers to play, and create healthy, vibrant communities.” 

Cameron Community Ministries is an urban outreach community center in the Lyell-Otis neighborhood of Rochester. Ninety-eight percent of residents in this neighborhood live in poverty. Its mission is to provide hope to the community through emergency services, engagement, education and empowerment. Cameron offers youth after-school and summer programs, a free hot meal program that serves lunch daily, an emergency food pantry, and a clothing house that serves community members in need of clothing and housewares. Learn more at www.cameronministries.org.