A crowd of over one hundred people filled Mildred Helms Park on Seymour Avenue in Newark for a rather unique toy gun exchange. Hosted by Mayor Cory Booker and members of the Newark Municipal Court, the toy gun exchange offered children a chance to trade in one of their own toys for a different one, one that would help discourage a culture where guns and senseless violence are tolerated. The Devils Army was present to offer their own toys—hockey sticks and Devils’ Army Pucks.
The children present could trade in any type of toy gun, whether it was a water gun, cap gun or simple noisemaker for board games, baseball tee sets, miniature pool tables, basketballs, bowling sets, books or Barbie dolls. In addition to these toys, each kid received a Devils stick and a Devils Army puck. The event succeeded in getting guns out of their hands and hockey sticks into them, even encouraging some children to begin playing hockey before they left the park.
The exchange was created by Stop Shootin’ Inc.’s Co-Founder Al-Tarek Onque, who said the idea came to him when he saw two children playing with toy guns. He said he hopes to “change the mindset at a young age,” so that kids learn the dangers of guns before they are exposed to actual weapons. After Onque thanked the crowd, council members and Mayor Booker, he left with the idea of allowing the youth to lead by example so that adults would follow. Councilman Ras Baraka echoed several important sentiments of “Stop shooting and start thinking,” as well as “Put down the guns and pick up a book.”
Mayor Booker, who was the last to speak, also stressed the importance of bringing the community together. He joked with the children and handed out toys and hockey sticks to the kids once the exchange began. Mayor Booker also raffled off several scooters, skateboards and a new bicycle.
For more information about Stop Shootin’ Inc. and Stop Shootin’ Music, check out their website at stopshootinmusic.org.