They spoke about their loss in shorthand.
"Three shots to the head," Regina Davis said of her son's killing.
"Found in the woods," Cerise Harris said of her son. "Gunshot to the head."
Maybe it was the drenching rain that put people in the mood for brevity as they marched along Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue in Anacostia yesterday. Or maybe their grief, over time, has been whittled down to hard fact.
"Morning, noon and night, I pray," said Ryan Fostion, 20, whose cousin, Victor Fostion, 19, was shot to death last month. "It's out of hand. Really, it's got to stop."
For 21 years, Unifest has been a joyous celebration of Washington's African American culture and history, drawing thousands of people each year to one of the city's biggest block parties. But this year, after a spate of killings of the District's youth, organizers decided there was nothing to celebrate.
They changed the tone from festive to somber, changed the name to Uni-Love and began yesterday morning with the "Chelsea Cromartie Walk for Youth," in memory of the 8-year-old girl who was killed last month when a stray bullet blasted through the front window of her aunt's Northeast Washington home.
Leaders from Union Temple Baptist Church in Anacostia organized the walk, which began outside Ballou Senior High School, where James Richardson, 17, was fatally shot in early February.
"A youth is being shot every 31/2 days here. There have been 45 murders [of young people] since January," said the Rev. Willie F. Wilson, pastor of Union Temple. "We need to create a sense that we can do something to make a difference and generate a spirit of community that we don't have now."
Although the wind whipped, and the day was relentlessly wet, more than 250 people took part in the walk that lasted about two hours. Leading the way was Troy Watts, a deacon at Union Temple, who carried an American flag with its white stripes painted black. Others followed close behind in a cluster of umbrellas and rain slickers.
They walked past boarded-up windows and well-kept homes, past Gracy's Soul Food and China Gourmet. Relatives of slain teenagers held hands and linked arms, and the crowd burst spontaneously into song several times, belting "I'm going to let it shine" into the drizzle.
Beyond drawing attention to the violence, the event's purpose was to raise money to fund thousands of summer jobs for youth and encourage religious organizations to create more community programs for kids, organizers said. Wilson said he hoped every church would adopt a neighborhood in the city and have its members work aggressively to improve children's lives.
"This is ongoing," he said. "This is not just today."
Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) joined the procession partway through, walking alongside Wilson, a potential mayoral candidate, and Chelsea's mother, Takisha Cromartie.
Williams said he was there to acknowledge "the families for all of the losses they've suffered this year." He pledged to offer more summer and after-school programs and employment opportunities for youth this year.
"The problem is we've got about 3,000 youth who've applied for jobs, and we don't, right now, have the funding for them," Williams said. "We're going to be making an appeal to the business community to ask them to step up their effort, and I'm going to be making an appeal to the government, asking it to step up its effort as well."
The procession ended at Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue and Good Hope Road, at the "wall of remembrance," a makeshift memorial that displayed photos of dozens of slain teenagers. The crowd pressed in tight against the wall. Umbrellas were folded down, and heads bent in prayer.
Cromartie sobbed and wiped away tears with her fist. The mayor touched her arm. Vernon Hawkins, Union Temple's administrator, summed up the hope of many: "We all pledge ourselves, from this day forward, to make a difference."