Tarj and Durell Hamilton dealt with a lot of frustration after both were shot in their driveway in an attempted robbery in 2007.
The shooter was never arrested. The couple’s four children began struggling in school as they, too, dealt with the aftermath of the shooting, which left Tarj Hamilton paralyzed from the waist down.
But instead of being angry, the Hamiltons vowed to turn their struggle into a positive force. They decided to start hosting “Pack the Park,” an annual anti-violence event whose seventh iteration was held Saturday at BREC’s Maplewood Park.
Pack the Park is the trademark event of One Voice, One Dream, One Team, the organization the Hamiltons started with the goal of mentoring youth and teaching them that crime is “not really worth it,” Tarj Hamilton said.
About 150 people attended the event on Saturday, where they enjoyed food and music and heard from several guest speakers who encouraged residents to get involved in their community.
“It’s to bridge that gap between police officers, public assistance and the community,” Hamilton said. “They never caught anybody who shot us. If we have some type of relationship with police officers, maybe we wouldn’t have so many people afraid to speak up.”
The inaugural Pack the Park event was held at Maplewood Park, then moved to different BREC parks in high-crime areas of Baton Rouge every year. This year, the Hamiltons decided to return to the original location.
State Sen. Regina Barrow, who represents the Glen Oaks area, said Pack the Park’s return to Glen Oaks this year was timely because the neighborhood has seen two shootings in just the past two weeks.
Torrance Tate, 27, died in surgery after he was shot on Holiday Court on June 12. Less than a week later on June 18, a man was seriously injured in a shooting on Winchester Avenue that police have said stemmed from an argument.
“Our young people have to know the value of their life and the value of the lives of others,” Barrow said.
Valencia Griffin-Wallace told event attendees that crime can hurt many people besides the victims.
Griffin-Wallace was 17 when her mother, Griezelda Jones, was shot to death in Zachary in May 1994. She was filled with anger, she said, and spent the next two years partying hard and getting into fights, even getting shot at herself during an argument at a club.
“We need to put a face on what happens to those kids whose mama or daddy was reduced to a body found in a ditch in Zachary,” she said, referring to her mother’s murder. “This is what happens. For years, I didn’t know who I was.”
She finally found a reason to live when she was 19 and her son was born.
“He had to be straight from God,” she said.
It’s not easy for people who are involved in violence and crime to walk away, Griffin-Wallace said. She urged people at Saturday’s event to realize the wider impact of crime and come together to stop it.