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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — A documentary created by Iowa BIG students honors youth in Cedar Rapids whose lives were lost to gun violence and explores community solutions.
The documentary features family and friends of people who died by gun violence, police officers, educators and community members.
The Iowa BIG program challenges students to think critically about problems in the community. The program works with high schools to have students split their time between traditional classes and projects for Iowa BIG.
The threat of gun violence looms large in the lives of area youths. Cedar Rapids had 163 substantiated shots fired incidents in 2020, which is almost 60 percent higher than the four-year average, according to the Cedar Rapids Police Department.
The documentary starts with an interview of Maddie Hobel, friend of Keyshawn Allers, 19, of Palo, who died last summer after he was found with multiple gunshot wounds.
He was a 2019 Kennedy High School graduate and varsity football player.
“Keyshawn was more than one of my best friends,” Hobel said in the documentary. “He was someone I looked up to. He was smart, caring and the life of the party. He was the one friend I knew was going somewhere.”
In the documentary, Aliyah Allers, Keyshawn’s sister, speaks lovingly of her brother and how much she misses him.
She also talks about how she fears for her own life.
“My brother was taken from us,” Aliyah said from her living room. “When I’m sleeping, I feel like somebody’s coming for me as they did for him. It’s hard to be here, but it’s where he spent his moments. It’s a happy place, but it’s a sad place at the same time.”
Callie Brown, 18, who graduated from Prairie High School in May, Kianna Davis, 17, a senior at Prairie High School, and Sadie Rebman, 15, a junior at Prairie High School, are a few of the students who produced the documentary.
Brown, who is attending Kirkwood Community College this fall, said conducting the interviews was extremely moving and challenging.
“It’s a heavy topic,” she said. “There were times we were all in tears.”
Brown said in creating the documentary, she wanted to remember the youth who died, and encourage people to “think twice about picking up a gun and taking someone’s life.”
So many of the kids who died got “caught up in the wrong moment and wrong time,” Brown said.
Brown wanted the documentary to specifically focus on gun violence against youth because it’s her friends and peers who are experiencing it.
Brown hasn’t lost anyone to gun violence, but she hopes this documentary could “save a life.”
Kianna, another student who produced the documentary, said she hopes it generates conversation and the community comes together to solve the problem of gun violence.
Sadie, who also worked on the documentary, said she hopes people who see the documentary see more value for their own life and other people’s lives.
“This documentary is not the end, it’s a beginning,” Sadie said. “We’re hoping to do more solutions-oriented work.”
Other youth lost to gun violence featured in the documentary are Royal Abrams, Andrew Gaston and Marisa Doolin.
Royal Abrams, 18, was shot and killed on May 18, 2019, in a double homicide outside a smoke shop.
In the sentencing hearing, the gunman, Andrew, Richardson, 27, said he saw a social media post earlier that night and thought someone who had shot at a house where he and his girlfriend had been a few weeks earlier was in the vehicle in the smoke shop parking lot.
Richardson said in retrospect he should have told the driver to leave, but instead, he “grabbed a gun in the car and started shooting.”
Aden Abrams, cousin of Royal Abrams, spoke in the documentary about what it was like to learn of his cousin’s murder.
“It doesn’t feel real when it’s your family,” Aden said.
Aden said Royal Abrams was the type of person who would text him what the weather was like that day, such as, “It’s cold, bundle up.”
Andrew Gaston, 18, died from a gunshot wound in a parking lot in January 2020.
His friends Marlen Garduno and Dangelo Washpun shared their memories of him in the documentary.
“Andrew was my best friend,” Dangelo said, as he and Marlen reminisced on the last basketball game Andrew played in. He scored 27 points.
Savion Lewis spoke about Marisa Doolin, 18, who was shot Dec. 22 and died four days later.
“She was really special to me because growing up she was my little crush in kindergarten,” Savion said. “She just got into it with the wrong guy, fell in love with him and he ended up taking her life.”
Kennedy High School resource officer Drew Tran said he has “gotten to know and care about” students who died by gun violence.
“It’s been hard to process sometimes why somebody’s life was taken that I care about,” he said in the documentary. “It’s personal because I personally know these kids.”
Okpara Rice, CEO of Tanager Place, said the community needs more programs to teach kids purpose, value and that they can achieve their dreams.
“Why do the majority of shootings involve young Black men? It goes back to systemic racism and lack of opportunity,” Rice said.
Last summer, Cedar Rapids Washington High School Principal Darius Ballard had a “student taken from this world” by gun violence, he said in the documentary.
Ballard said people are too quick to provoke one another and escalate the situation.
“I want the next generation to treat themselves with a different definition of respect: ‘I want to be here every single day. I can lose this battle because I will win the war, which is my life.’”
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