URBANA — Elijha Booker was at the top of everyone's mind Wednesday.
Dozens of community members packed Salem Baptist Church in Champaign awaiting instructions to fan out into the neighborhood and hand out information that may help prevent the type of violence that killed the Franklin STEAM Academy eighth-grader last weekend.
Franklin Crawford, 16, and friend Vashon Frazier, 17, had no doubt in their minds why they were there.
"I'm here because I can't help but think about it being one of my relatives," Frazier said. "It could've been my little brother. My nephew. It's scary. You really do have to be careful."
For Crawford, it wasn't a big deal to give a couple of hours on a Wednesday to walk around and hand out bags full of informational leaflets and pamphlets that could help prevent the type of violence that has personally affected him.
"It's heartbreaking, really," he said about Booker's death. "It's just really sad to think about the fact that at any age, you could lose your life out here. I've personally lost someone to gun violence. But it's a push for me instead of pulling me down. It makes me want to do greater things throughout the community. Just one small moment and one instant with someone can help."
It was exactly Tracy Parsons' point to get people "out of their comfort zone" and engage them with their neighbors when he started the Walk as One event two years ago. Champaign's community-relations manager said Wednesday was as much about the information being passed out in the bags — gun-violence prevention, mental-health resources, summer youth activities, etc. — as it was about direct community engagement and action.
"We're here to let people know that we're concerned about the violence, that we're here to help and provide a space to build a partnership," Parsons said. "We're delivering a very simple message that we're here for them."
Former Urbana Superintendent Don Owen said he had to do his part to let people know what's available.
"I'm very saddened by any act of gun violence in our community," Owen said. "But when it impacts the youth in our community, I want to make sure I'm doing all I can to make sure that our families and our neighbors know that the coalition is putting things in place to stop these things and be more restorative."
From young student groups to church members and law enforcement, volunteers found themselves greeted by welcoming neighbors around King Park. As people headed back to Salem Baptist to head home, Damon Roberson, deacon at Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church, walked alongside Associate Minister Andrew Terrall as they went to one last door. Roberson said it's his way to show he cares.
"The best way to tell someone you care about them is to let them know what ready-made resources exist to help them be better," Roberson said. "We want to keep ourselves engaged during the summer and have oneness together. We're here to show that we're not going to be divided by the violence. We're here to promote our community because we all live here."