Anti-violence community activist Tio Hardiman hosted an anti-violence town hall meeting in Austin on Aug. 25 within the most ironic of places — Johnson Family Funeral Home, 5838 W. Division St.
Hardiman used the platform to call for the Austin community to band together in order to stop the gun violence that’s affecting many residents.
The activist, who currently heads up Violence Interrupters, said he wants to host the town hall in a funeral home in order to give a visceral quality to the impersonal data on gun violence that’s often publicized.
Along with providing symbolism, the town hall proved a useful staging ground for Hardiman to make numerous demands. They include the creation of a movement based on unity with the African American community that would focus on mediating conflicts before they become fatal, the call for Mayor Rahm Emanuel to leave office and the development of numerous new small businesses within black communities, among others.
“It’s time to really focus in and zoom in on [gun violence] like a laser beam and work on unifying the African American community so we can go out there and reach those young brothers involved in a violent lifestyle and hopefully work with them to stop all the killing,” said Hardiman. “We can then train those young guys to mediate their own conflicts when they arise. Some kind of way, we have to grab our young brothers and bring them into the fold.”
Hardiman said he will provide sessions for a 40-hour conflict resolution and gang mediation curriculum to train local violence interrupters in Austin to help decrease the number of gun-related fatalities.
He also plans on leading a Sept. 2 march of 100 young men and women through Austin to talk to different personalities within the community to try to keep them from engaging in any gun-related activity.
“We need to try and save lives so I want to ask those brothers if they have a conflict, let me know so we can work it out for them,” said Hardiman.
Greater St. John Bible Church Rev. Ira Acree said said African Americans throughout the years have been “poisoned by the toxicity of white supremacy” and that many are not aware of its impact, which often leads African Americans to distrust each other.
“If (Hardiman) were to ever get a budget that other people have gotten for violence initiatives, he could turn this thing around,” said Acree, who described Hardiman a community “jewel”.
“He knows the people; he knows the pulse of the (Austin) community,” Acree said. “Do I believe in everything he says? Absolutely not, but if we support his effort of ridding ourselves of gun violence, then that makes a difference.”
Eric Russell, president of the Tree of Life nonprofit organization said he attended the town hall as a sign of his solidarity with Hardiman. He said Hardiman’s history of interrupting violence had a lot to do with why he came to the town hall.
“Primarily, I’m of the belief that the police cannot stop the shootings,” said Russell. “It’s about time that people realize that the cavalry is not coming; it’s going to be our cross to bear, it’s going to be our responsibility to cut the violence in our community.”