Following the shooting-death of his 14 year-old cousin, Zenas “Nas” Powell, on May 26, grieving 12 year-old Chester resident Tamahj Powell penned a letter to Chester Mayor Thaddeus Kirkland expressing his dream of a safe, homicide-free Chester, an effort Tamahj believed starts with his young peers.
To raise youth awareness to violence with a mix of childhood innocence, Tamahj posed the idea to host a city-wide bike ride to promote unity and peace.
On Saturday afternoon, the 12 year-old’s brainchild came to life when city officials, faith-based leaders and community activists lent their support, calling it, “Bikes Up, Guns Down.” The demonstration also attracted the attention of sympathetic Chester residents, many of whom also affected by gun violence.
“(This was done) to not only recognize Nas and remember Nas, but to also bring peace to the community,” Kirkland said.
The youngsters of the city gathered at Buchman Meadows on their bikes at noon and rode across the city’s west end, to their destination at Memorial Park for additional festivities, which included live musical performances and keynote speakers.
“We are tired of (the) violence,” Tamahj told attendees during a speech at the park, “We can’t even walk around our blocks to the store without our parents worrying.”
Powell explained the steady violence has put a damper on the joys of being a kid playing in the neighborhood. He also reminisced about moments with his cousin, such as their comical culinary experience and family outings, some of which were among their last encounters together.
A chilling revelation, Tamahj told listeners, was that his cousin’s murder was one of many “uncles and cousins” lost to “senseless violence.” “When will it stop?” he asked.
Getting to the core of his goal, Tamahj said, “Now we have a chance to ride in peace and our parents don’t have to worry; most importantly we can all meet up and unite doing something we enjoy while bringing awareness to violence in the City of Chester, maybe even, the world.”
Robert Nichols, the father of Zenas Powell, also spoke to attendees, extemporaneously thanking them for the outpouring of support. He said he was initially pessimistic about holding the event and felt he didn’t have the “strength” to relive the murder of his son.
“Today, when I got up this morning, I didn’t think I could make it here to do this, but I (did) it; when I got here and saw all of (you), (you all) gave me the strength to do it,” Nichols said, holding back tears.
Vanessa Burton, Zenas’ grandmother, told The Spirit she was “glad” fellow residents came out to support her family, even extending a thanks to Chester City officials, religious leaders, Chester police and a police department in Maryland.
“I can’t express it, but I am grateful,” Powell said, adding that through the tragedy she can see a positive turnaround.
“It’s scary out here, but since this happened I’ve seen a big change,” the grandmother said.
Zenas Powell, who was just 11 days shy of graduating from the eighth grade at Chester Community Charter School, was leaving a convenience store in the 1100 block of Pine St. on the city’s west end, on the night of May 26th, with his 16 year-old cousin, Quamar Powell.
Both teens were struck by stray bullets. Zenas died that night at Crozer-Chester Medical Center, making him the 10th homicide victim this year in Chester. Quamar survived but was in critical condition. According to the boys’ grandmother, one of the shooters has been arrested, but the second remains at large.