Onna Moniz-John stood before the crowd of East Providence residents holding balloons on Central Avenue and declared that "God has smiled on Neighborhood Day." The event, which turned 19 Saturday morning, featured music by DJ J-Man, free food, community outreach from the East Providence Police Department and domestic violence and housing organizations.
While the fun atmosphere cut through the humid morning air, the day's memorial theme brought a somber and reflective tone to the festivities. Several years ago, Moniz-John welcomed the opportunity to further her goal of uniting the East Providence community by having the event double as a platform to remember family and friends of neighboring residents who have passed. As a result, Neighborhood Day now includes a sea of locals wearing T-Shirts featuring lost loved ones, as they embark on a mile-long walk.
Remembering Staria Lynn Silva
This year, the walk honored the memory of George Lima, Kenny Braz, and , a young woman who lost her life due to domestic violence. Mayor Bruce Rogers was on hand to deliver city citations to the family members of the three deceased residents.
After the three families lined up in front of the park's memorial garden, others in attendance gathered around them, holding balloons which they all released into the air simultaneously.
After the release of the balloons, surviving family members took to the small memorial garden to plant flowers and lay mulch.
Staria Lynn Silva's mother, Linda Silva, later spoke of what the Neighborhood Day means to her.
"I want to remember my daughter, always," Silva said. "I want her to be remembered by everyone. She loved everyone, everyone loved her. I just want her to be in everyone's mind."
Silva said the most emotional part of the morning was watching the balloons released in the air, but added that Staria's "twin daughters are keeping [her] going."
Silva also had a pointed message for those looking to use her tragedy as a cautionary tale.
"If you get a restraining order, make sure everyone knows about it in the neighborhood, so it can be in full force," Silva said. "If the [perpetrator is] ever around in the street, the person can be notified, the police can be notified and maybe this won't happen."
Remembering Jammal Jackson
Another parent with strong ties to the annual event was Sheila Jackson, mother of Jammal Jackson. The family home is directly across the street from the Central Avenue park, and before Jackson died from a heart attack during a physical training test for a correctional officer position four years ago, he was a regular not only in the park, but at Neighborhood Day, as well. The event's basketball tournament is now named after Jammal Jackson
"When they started the memorial walk, my son used to walk for my husband, because he had passed," Sheila said. "Now I walk for him."
Neighborhood Day's pioneer, Onna Moniz-John, started the annual event almost two decades ago in an attempt to revamp the city park on Central Avenue. Her efforts led her to pursue funding from the city of East Providence, later matched by the state and federal government. Her efforts were so appreciated, the park now stands in her name.
"The kids wanted to get the park fixed, and I told them the right way to do it is to go to City Hall," Moniz-John said, remembering the community-based, 500-signature petition that started the rebuilding process 19 years ago. "[After state and federal funds], we ended up with about $125,000!"
The memorial component of Neighborhood Day began several years ago, when Moniz-John described a "mother from the park" who had lost her son. The idea was proposed and has been a vital part of the event ever since.
Moniz-John said each Neighborhood Day is made possible by local businesses that donate food supplies.