CP photo by Rebecca Addison
When 38-year-old Demetrius Nash returned to Chicago in 2013 after being incarcerated for nearly a decade, he says he didn't recognize his city. Today, the homicide rate
in the area is the highest it's been since the early 1990s.
"In my community, I just thought it was time for a change," Nash said at an event in the Hill District earlier today.
Nash is in town this week as part of a multi-city tour. In August, he set out from Chicago on foot with the goal of walking to the White House. He walks 20 miles per day as part of his 672-mile journey and plans to make it to Washington, D.C., in two more weeks.
Earlier today, he spoke at a press conference at the Jeron X. Grayson Community Center. The center was named for the son of local pastor Rev. Glenn Grayson, who was shot and killed in 2010 while home visiting from college.
"Me and your son, I'm walking for him," Nash told Rev. Grayson today.
Nash's first-hand experience with gun violence started after he got involved in the drug trade in his late teens. He says he used to carry firearms and drugs in the knapsack he's been carrying on his back across the country.
"By the time I was 20, 21, I was doing $30,000 in heroin," Nash said. "This is not a glorification, it's fact. I put up numbers in the streets."
Going to prison changed Nash's outlook, and since he's returned to Chicago, he's set out to keep guns out of the hands of the city's youth. After his walk is over, he plans to launch the program Replace Guns With Hammers which will connect black men to jobs in the construction and building trades.
Nash says his first stop in D.C. will be to meet with the Congressional Black Caucus. There, he plans to talk about the epidemic of gun violence, facing not just Chicago, but cities all around the country, including Pittsburgh.
Local activists, like Valerie Dixon, who also spoke at today's press conference, have been fighting to stop gun violence in Pittsburgh for decades. In 2001, Dixon's son was shot and killed, and after a number of his friends were killed in rapid succession, she says she realized the magnitude of the local epidemic.
"The guns flow freely through our community. I'm all about the Second Amendment, but I'm for responsible gun ownership," Dixon said. "A responsible gun owner would not allow a .357 K to be at a cookout, and a 2-year-old is murdered."
Today's event was organized by CeaseFirePa, a local nonprofit working to fight gun violence. Rob Conroy, CeaseFirePa's director of organizing, urged those at today's press conference to continue the fight by pushing for measures
like universal background checks and laws that keep guns out of schools
"Make sure we put pressure on our state legislators," Conroy said. "There's a lot happening in our state legislature right now."