A Real Advocate for Gun Violence Prevention



 In the 70s, Kenneth Barnes, Sr. and the late Mel Edwards, a WOL radio disc jockey, invented the Friday night go-go dances. Back then, gun violence was not popular. Even though, the tradition of go-go music today is alive and well, for reasons unknown, gun violence prevention is much required in the new millennium.

The only Black student pursuing a doctorate degree in Clinical Psychology at Loyola College in Baltimore in 2001, Barnes received a disturbing phone call from his sister one evening after class. His only son, Kenneth Barnes, Jr., owner of the Boutique U Clothing Store in Washington, D.C. had been shot. When Barnes finally arrived home, his son’s wife notified him with a confirmed report. Her husband was murdered.

Many people are incarcerated, knowing of a love one being murdered.  A sober minded Barnes wisely made sense out of a tragic ordeal. He kept his composure and dealt with his own sanity, positively. Staying active was therapy, as he refused to sit back and isolate. Concerned citizens provided the lifelong Washington, D.C. native with information that he expedited to the media and a homicide detective, the same night of the murder.

“In a couple of days, James ‘Dee’ Hill, a runaway from the Department of Youth Services Administration surrendered and Gail Turner, the director was fired,” Barnes told Regal Magazine. The current name of this particular government entity is called: Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services.

At age 17, Hill received 105 years in prison. He was charged with three counts of second degree murder and one gun charge. Prior to, he had killed two other people.

Following the death of Kenneth Barnes, Jr. – Root, Inc. (REACHING OUT TO OTHERS TOGETHER) became a non-profit community based organization, concentrating on gun violence prevention. “It should be long term sustainability, that way you can measure results in others areas, and we believe in community participation,” says Barnes, the CEO of Root, Inc. Violence is brewing nationwide, and Barnes believes that people have no faith in the police, government or clergy.

“Putting the government and police in charge is not the solution. Government wants to lock more people up and the police become more violent.”

Approximately 47,000 plus homicides occurred from 2001- 2005, according to the Uniform Crime Reports.  Root, Inc. is relentlessly trying to address the gun violence prevention issue that seems to be flying under the radar screen. Given much respect to President Obama, Barnes said, our new commander has yet to discuss the crisis in his speeches. The focus on gun violence prevention and long term solutions are essential to Barnes. The sound bite photo opt stuff is irrelevant. 

Root, Inc. operates seven days a week. Barnes works tirelessly like a police officer at the Ward 5 office, within the walls of his lavish Duke Ellington penthouse duplex in northwest Washington, D.C.  Monthly meetings to discuss gun violence prevention are held with police officers, board members, lawmakers and concerned citizens. To develop a national awareness campaign promoting “Mothers Against Drunk Drivers and Guns Aside,” is of great importance to Root, Inc.

What discombobulates Barnes, who strongly advocates for peace and gun violence prevention, is the power of the National Rifle Association (NRA). The minute he steps into a political person’s office and mentions gun violence prevention, the lawmaker refuses to get into a battle with the NRA.

Barnes clarifies that he is not on Capitol Hill to debate second amendment issues or the right to bear arms. Recently, the administration of Washington, D.C., tried to pass a crime bill, which centers on locking people up and taking their rights. “The anti-crime bill legislation by the Mayor is an emergency legislation, to avoid all council hearings. This anti-crime issue is profiling and against constitution rights,” Barnes points out. “They’re trying to convert the District of Columbia into a police state.” The City Council soundly rejected Mayor Fenty’s crime bill introduced by Councilmember Evan, 9-4.

When necessary, the 64-year-old bachelor travels to promote gun violence prevention. In 2008 he flew to New Orleans with Dr. Ron Daniels, guest speaker on gun violence prevention at the State of the Black World Conference. Periodically, he’ll journey to Boston where Root, Inc. has a branch office. Congressman Bobby Rush has introduced a bill addressing gun violence prevention to Congress. The bill is titled, “The Community in Action Neighborhood Defense Opportunity Bill-the Can Do Bill.”

The purpose of the bill is to address gun violence prevention, not from a legislative or law enforcement mindset, but from a reduction perspective. The bill will address issues that create the violence, which if eradicated can lead to gun violence prevention. Barnes admits, “We so often react to gun violence.” When the bill is passed, Root, Inc. will invade the 10 most violent cities and insert a model to concentrate on gun violence prevention from a public health perspective. Initially, the dysfunctional families surrounded by poverty will be confronted, along with the lack of education and high rates alcoholism.

Unfortunately, Barnes had to furlough staff due to the lack of funding.  His local monthly amateur boxing shows, in collaboration with Lisa Foster Cohen, were postponed. It is somewhat an oxymoron for Root, Inc. to obtain the lesser amount in the 2008 fiscal year, than any other Washington, D.C. community-based organization.

            A year later, the peacemaker was deservingly inserted into the Congressional Record, and nominated on April 24th by Joye Frost, the acting director of the United States Department of Justice Office of Victims Services and Attorney General Eric Holder for outstanding national service.

The prestigious award is given to a person who does the most work to bring attention to circumstances of victims of crime from a national level. “This is a great honor being bestowed upon a great man and I congratulate Mr. Barnes for his commitment and dedication to an issue that is so dear to my heart and the hearts of millions of others throughout our nation,” says Congressman Rush of Illinois.

What annoys Barnes and probably other non-profits is having to deal with politicians and law enforcers who are not completely honest with him or the general public. On January 30th, Darryl Maurice Robinson, Jr. experienced an altercation inside the Trade Winds Nightclub in Temple Hills, Md. After being escorted out of the club by the authorities, Robinson was fatally shot, only feet away from the police. No suspects were identified, nor apprehended at the time of the shooting.

The next day Darryl’s wife, Tameka Lee Robinson, 33, was informed that the Prince George’s County detectives had a video tape of the altercation. The cops were looking for four suspects involved in the fight, as well as associates that walked out of the door with her husband. “From the beginning, the county detectives frustrated our family, held onto a video tape, and made assumptions, instead of following up on things that were obviously lies,” says Tameka, a mother of three boys.

A Root, Inc. outreach worker notified Barnes about the murder. Barnes offered words of encouragement to Tameka, organized a meeting with the Prince George’s County Police Chief and the detectives to find out the current details. During the sixth week of the investigation, and still no release of the video tape, Barnes suggested a prayer vigil at the site of Darryl’s murder on March 31st. The police chief and other county officials accepted the invitation from Mr. Barnes.

However, upon that date none of these individuals showed up. The prayer vigil motivated the assigned detectives to finally release the video. Barnes contacted the media and within two hours of the prayer vigil, the gentleman on the video tape turned themselves in.

“Mr. Barnes and Root, Inc. have helped my family a great deal, because I didn’t know where to start. His organization contacted some positive activists in our community, he explained the strength needed to successfully complete the task handed to me by God, and made sure to keep the case in the media in order to let the detectives and county officials know that we are not going away,” says Tameka.

The men were interrogated and released. The case is not closed and all Tameka Robinson can do is pray. Her kids can’t quite grasp the fact that there is no family vacation this summer, smaller birthday celebrations and quiet birthdays for dad.

Barnes is the first individual to receive a proclamation from the county executive in Prince George’s County, Maryland for gun violence prevention.  May 5th is officially Kenneth Barnes Day in the nation’s capitol.

He acquired a certificate of appreciation from the dean of Howard University School of Social Work, Dr. Cudore L. Snell, in honor of his advocacy for gun violence prevention for the residents of Washington, D.C. 

Councilmember Michael Brown has known Kenneth Barnes and his work in the community for years. Brown said the District of Columbia is incredibly fortunate to have an individual and organization that is so informed and so passionate about gun violence prevention.

“I do believe that the research and proven strategies that Root, Inc. have produced should be implemented across the country and should be seriously considered in all policy discussions regarding the prevention of violent crimes,” the councilmember admits.

Every first Tuesday, Barnes conducts a radio talk show on WPFW 89.3 FM called “Spirit in Action.” He strongly wants the public to be aware of gun violence prevention. He’s on Facebook and the Congressional Black Caucus website. He receives approximately 100 daily emails.

Frankly, he says, he only has a couple of good friends.  Barnes’ celebratory party for earning a national accolade was hosted by Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth, the most popular contestant on the Apprentice. Roughly, 350 attendees were present.

The easy going Barnes does not club or hang in the streets anymore. He’s in bed by 2 AM, now living with glaucoma. He stays in shape by working out with former two time pugilist champ, Lisa Foster Cohen.

The father of a 14-year-old honor roll student, Yvette, Barnes looks forward to more motivational speaking invites. “With a master’s degree in clinical psychology from the University of the District of Columbia, knowledge as a co-victim, and collaborating with other entities and organizations, not many people can provide from all of those perspectives,” he says. Barnes considers himself an expert in this field.

On the penthouse patio, Barnes expressed happiness with the direction Root, Inc. is pursuing. He also deals with the Willie Lynch mentality among Black people and organizations, and the politics. His voice resembles that of Marlon Brando, who played the Godfather.

In the early 90s, he suffered from chronic asthma. His lungs collapsed. For a month, he utilized a respirator machine; a tube was placed down his throat. The tube destroyed his vocal cords, but his spirit to save a life, community or city is inevitable.

Barnes believes, there is a need for a consensus, organizing, capacity building entity that welcomes everyone to be on the same accord or agenda, and from that standpoint, we’d want Root, Inc. to fill that void fighting this epidemic with a national strategy. In simple terms, Mr. Barnes is a built like an advocate for gun violence prevention.

Wilson is a contributing writer for Regal Black Men’s Magazine.


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