Building a Wall of Sorrows

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Alvin Brooks, Griot Y-Von and Art McCoy are among the crew working weekends to install the new Memorial Wall of Sorrows

Judy Martin's world changed forever, 14 years ago.

JUDY MARTIN: My youngest son was killed in 1994, I suppose that was the beginning of this part of my life.

SOUND: hammering… a back hoe rumbles by…. UP & UNDER

Martin gazes at an expanse of painted plywood that's being attached to the side of an old brick building at East 113th and Superior Avenue. Scrawled on one side of this wooden wall is the announcement: "Home of the Memorial Wall of Sorrows". This wall going to replace a similar structure a few blocks from here in East Cleveland that bore the name of her 23-year-old son Chris, who was shot to death by a 22-year-old.

JUDY MARTIN: But, it's not just me. We have more than 1100 kids on that wall now.

The original Wall of Sorrows listed the names of young homicide victims from Cuyahoga County dating back to 1990, and the list grows bigger each year along with a number of portraits --- a boy with a backwards cap playing basketball… a kid riding a bike… a group of four children laughing. All dead. These images of innocence used to stare at passersby on Euclid Avenue until the City of East Cleveland decided to raze the building and redevelop the property. A Cleveland business woman who calls herself Griot Y-Von came to the rescue by offering a new site to host the memorial wall along with an adjoining empty lot that's due to become a community garden.

GRIOT Y-VON: Now, this front lot would be that Memory/Reflection Garden. I'd like to put a greenhouse over there with only perennials. This will all be done by volunteers, and maybe we'll get some funding from something. We'll figure that out.

The new wall is going up slowly with a small volunteer crew that works on weekends. Community activist Art McCoy steadies a ladder as a carpenter drives another nail anchoring the wood frame into the brick. Well-known as the man with the megaphone at area protest rallies, McCoy is subdued, this sunny afternoon. He lost his own daughter to gun violence, and says it's important for families to have a touchstone.

ART McCOY: The neighborhood is full of pain. So, first of all, they'll be able to come out and vent their pain, vent their suffering, but finally, they'll be able to come out and look at the names on that wall, and the pictures of their loved ones, and we hope that, at that point, the healing will begin.

Ward 9 Councilman Kevin Conwell says he wasn't totally on board with the project, at first. He and some of the area residents had concerns that it would become a large scale version of one of those teddy bear and balloon memorials, fastened to telephone poles throughout the inner city.

KEVIN CONWELL: With the teddy bears, it's unkept. With the teddy bears, sometimes it can become blight. I'm going to have a contract with them that they maintain the wall.

Judy Martin pledges to keep the site clean. She just hopes it's going to be big enough.

JUDY MARTIN: I've had people call me, after they see it on the website, saying "My sister was killed 30 years ago, can you put her picture on the building?" And I did. So, it gives us a place for our grief and our sorrow, but it's also a place to say, "Let's stop this."

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