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Miami families of gun-violence victims find hope through the arts

A father still grieves, one year after losing his son to gun violence

Santonio Carter describes the difficulties of moving on one year after his son, 6-year-old King Carter, was killed by a stray bullet while playing outside his Northwest Miami-Dade apartment.
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Santonio Carter describes the difficulties of moving on one year after his son, 6-year-old King Carter, was killed by a stray bullet while playing outside his Northwest Miami-Dade apartment.

Veteran Miami-Dade County schoolteacher and dance instructor Tawana Akins is no stranger to the agony of gun violence.

She has lost four relatives to gunshot wounds including her 6-year-old great-nephew King Carter, who was slain while walking to the candy store in February 2016.

Akins uses music, dance and poetry to cope with her pain. “There is so much violence. We need to save our kids,” she said.

She also wants to help her community. To promote peace, Akins hosted her 13th annual dance recital, “Save Our Youth Part 4”, on June 24 in Miami Northwestern Senior High School’s auditorium.

Ten girls, ages 4 to 16 from Akins’ Pretty Girlz Rock Dance Company, sailed across the stage in a dozen different costumes performing inspirational, jazz, contemporary and hip-hop routines for the cause.

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‘Lost my only son to a gun, why Lord,’ says Santonio Carter as part of his song during his performance at the Save Our Youth dance recital. NYAMEKYE DANIEL For the Miami Herald

During the past three years, gun violence has killed 94 teens and children in Miami, according to data from the Miami-Dade Medical Examiner's Office.

The deaths have scourged the black community.

During the opening of the show, Akins asked those in the audience who had family members killed by gun violence to stand.

Ten out of about 100 audience members stood in silence.

Sirena Harrell was one of them. Her 15-year-old son, Isaiah Solomon, was shot and killed at a wake less than two miles away from Northwestern High in August 2016. The case has remained unsolved.

“I would have never imagined in a million years that behind your name hundreds of people will be hashtagging RIP,” Harrell said during a spoken word performance at the show. “On this earth, your sensitive death has given me no peace.”

During a contemporary dance to “Glory” by John Legend and Common, the girls held signs saying “Peace,” “Stop” and one with clippings about King’s murder.

Santonio Carter, King’s father, also performed.

Before his son was shot to death, Carter said he spent time working on his rap music career, but the theme of his music changed after. He performed an original song, “Let us Live” in memory of his son.

Akins, Santonio Carter’s aunt, has been teaching dance for 14 years. Along with Pretty Girlz Rock, she also leads a dance troupe at Miami’s Holmes Elementary School, where she supervises 22 math teachers.

In May, Akins released a poetry book titled, “A Better Me,” which covers topics such as perseverance, self-love and forgiveness.

“This inspirational, uplifting and motivational self-help book of poems allows people to dig deeper inside of their hearts and souls to become better,” Akins said. “It is important to become better at daily life despite all obstacles that you encounter.”

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