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Strolling memorial honors gun violence victims in Detroit

Ariana Taylor
The Detroit News

Detroit — More than four years have passed since Jada Rankin was killed in a drive-by shooting, and her mother, Tawanna Rankin, is keeping her spirit alive by honoring other victims of gun violence. 

On Sunday, Rankin celebrated Jada's birthday with a strolling memorial displaying photographs of victims of gun violence at Palmer Park in Detroit. 

Jada, 15, was killed at a family gathering by a man who shot a gun while he was speeding through a neighborhood in 2016. 

Tawanna Rankin, left, embraces Sophfronia Dalton at the strolling memorial for victims of the city's gun violence at Palmer Park in Sunday.

"I wanted to fold ... but the more I stood, the more I heard there were more murders out there, more children, more mamas like me that came to me saying, 'What do I do'?" Rankin said. "I didn't know what to do. There's no rule book to this ... but you have to surround yourself with people that love you."

Rankin, with the help of others, placed 75 photos of gun violence victims, whose cases are solved and unsolved, around a pavilion at Palmer Park and along Covington Drive next to the park. The photos remained until the end of the day Sunday. 

Tawanna Rankin, center, with her husband,  Jimmy Rankin, at the memorial. "There's no rule book to this ... but you have to surround yourself with people that love you," she said of families recovering from the loss of loved one to gun violence.

Rankin said she plans on making the memorial an annual event and hopes next year it can be held at Belle Isle. 

Rankin started a nonprofit, Justice for Jada, in 2017 to support those affected by gun violence. Since Jada's death, the nonprofit has hosted other events to highlight gun violence in the city, including a ride for justice in 2018 with dozens of motorcyclists. 

"We have dollars sitting in Lansing for survivors and victims and families, and those dollars need to make sure that they are received right here in our community for our survivors," said state Sen. Sylvia Santana, D-3rd District, who joined the memorial Sunday. "So I will continue to fight hard for policies and legislation ... to make sure that we can't bring back our loved ones but we can heal beyond the pain."

Families crowded around photos of their loved ones, including the family of Casey Willis, 18, a Wayne State student who was killed Dec. 26. Rankin said she chose Willis as a recipient of the Justice for Jada scholarship last summer before Willis started at Wayne State.

One mother, whose son and cousin were killed in 2011, said the solution to gun violence is for residents to be more involved in local government and the laws that are enacted. 

"You have to put action to your voice," said Mia Reid, a Detroit mother who lost her son, Charles W. Reid, 24, to gun violence. "... When you show up, that inspires other people to show up, and the more people that show, that brings awareness and the awareness gets the attention of the people that actually write the bills and make the laws.. We want change in voting; we want change in legislation."

Families gathered for the memorial in Palmer Park in Detroit on Sunday. Tawanna Rankin organized the event on the birthday Sunday of her daughter Jada, who was killed at age 15 in 2016.

Jada, who was a Sterling Heights High School student, was leaving her grandmother’s home on the 14300 block of Ardmore after a birthday party about 2 a.m. Oct. 16, 2016, when a vehicle sped down the street, authorities said. Rankin’s brother warned the driver to slow down.

The motorist stopped, opened his car door and fired gunshots into the crowd. Jada died at Sinai-Grace Hospital in Detroit.