The drums, cowbells and maracas of the high-stepping Tigers Marching Band called the community to come and celebrate Father's Day yesterday -- and to remember lost lives.
As band members made their way to Fort Stanton Park in Southeast Washington, people peeked out their windows, gathered on corners and danced along to the thump of a bass drum and the rat-a-tat-tat of a snare.
"Step it up, y'all," said Dawn Fox, coordinator of the band from Anthony Bowen YMCA in Northwest. "Smile, y'all, smile."
A five-member honor guard, in shiny black church shoes, white shorts and red T-shirts emblazoned in black with the band's name, carried the U.S. flag and marched behind a banner that read, "Guns Aside."
The banner signified that this year's parade and picnic -- delayed by services for Javelle Poindexter, 20, who was killed along with another young man June 12 on Harvard Street NW -- were a call to end the violence that has claimed lives across the city and along its border with Prince George's County.
"For the first couple of years, it was just about a picnic," Calvin Woodland Jr. of the Calvin Woodland Foundation, a nonprofit organization committed to ending violence, said of the annual event. "This year we wanted to try to send another message. It's about telling fathers to step up, and it's about putting guns aside."
The event was co-sponsored by ROOT Inc. (Reaching Out to Others Together), an advocacy group for homicide victims and their families.
During a libation ceremony, in which people gathered for prayer and water was poured into a bowl of soil from the neighborhood, the far-reaching effects of violence became clear as those in the audience named victims.
Thornell Moore, 37, called out the name of his best friend, Johnathan Ray, who was fatally shot 10 years ago. He left four children behind.
Darryl Johnson, 38, recited the name of Miguel Miles, his younger brother, who was shot from behind three times in Northeast in 2003. He left three children.
"He was especially the reason I came," Johnson said. "I don't live in the neighborhood, but I come back and support anything that has to do with strengthening the community."
Kenneth E. Barnes Sr., who founded ROOT after his son, Kenneth E. Barnes Jr., was shot to death in 2001, said that although crime has decreased in the city, it is important to stay focused on the problem of violence.
"We have to be ever vigilant," Barnes said. "Our children are being killed. They are becoming killers. We can't let our guards down."
Virginia Williams, the mother of Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D), showed up to support the event.
"I'm here. I'll always be here for you," she said before leading the singing of the national anthem.
D.C. Council member Kwame R. Brown (D-At Large) also attended.
While children headed for the pool and went to ride horses brought in for the occasion, volunteers from the Woodland Foundation and ROOT sweated over grills, unwrapped potato salad and passed out drinks. Then people lined up for burgers, hot dogs, chips and punch. The T.D. Jakes song "Where Are the Fathers" rang out from speakers: "There's a conversation, it might begin today . . . Where are the fathers . . . ?"
Moore, reflecting on his run-ins with violence, wondered about solutions and at times sounded frustrated.
"It's so hard because we've had organizations for many years," he said. "But it's so hard to convince a kid not to do wrong."
Yesterday's picnic and parade were aimed at showing the youths who swam and ate and soaked in the summer rays that, as Woodland said, guns and violence aren't natural or normal.
"It's nice to get kids off the street and get them at a community event," said Alonte King, 15, drum major of the Tigers Marching Band. "It makes me think that other people besides my parents care about my safety."
"It's nice to get kids off the street and get them at a community event," King said.