The Northside Old Timers seek a sponsor to fork over $1,500 so that 500 children can wear anti-violence T-shirts on a march to kick off the group's annual Unity Day celebration on Aug. 15.
The Old Timers is a group of mostly grandparents and great-grandparents who have lifelong ties to each other and nicknames such as Pookie and Scrappy. Their mission is to steer young children toward peaceful life goals. They have led groups of childern to ice skating rinks and other fun places they may never have been able to visit otherwise.
Unity Day is the Old Timers' tour de force, bringing thousands of people together in Allegheny Commons Park to reenact a togetherness they remember as kids, when everyone's parent was your parent and you got it when you got home if someone saw you acting up in public.
When the group first started forming in 2007, Fred "Pookie" Fortson told me that he feared the older kids were already lost; "our hope is with the little kids."
At the time, I resisted his assessment; it's not too late for anyone to get himself out of harm's way, to get set on a path away from destruction. Right? Now I wonder. It's been said that the life path is pretty much paved in grade school, maybe as early as 5. Most of the kids who march will be older than 5. Some will be wearing little football uniforms as members of the Children for Champions league.
The Old Timers invited me to join them at their first official meeting the night in August of 2007 that 19-year-old Damien Blackwell was killed in Observatory Hill. It was the third fatal shooting on the North Side in a little more than three weeks.
Fred "Scrappy" Bulls said at the time, "All the old timers remember the days when kids had respect, and when we speak about it, it's usually at a funeral.
"We decided to try to do something," as a group. "We're looking for a miracle."
The march starts at 11 a.m. on the 15th from the corner of Brighton Road and Charles Street. It will follow Brighton into Allegheny Commons Park, where thousands will gather for a day of live music, food, games and reminiscing.