Rise Up March brings powerful message to the streets

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South Main Street School teacher of the year Ericka Watson holds up a sign encouraging students to stay in school. South Main Street School teacher of the year Ericka Watson holds up a sign encouraging students to stay in school.

PLEASANTVILLE – Residents along the mostly quiet streets of the city’s south side were called to their doors Friday, Feb. 15, by the chanting and marching of hundreds of children and teachers taking a stand against drugs, gun violence and gangs.

They marched to help make the city safer and better by participating in the South Main Street School’s inaugural Rise Up March, an event envisioned by school Principal Felicia Hyman-Medley.

Hyman-Medley said she wanted to commemorate Black History Month by creating an event that would relive the freedom marches led by the Rev. Martin Luther King in the 1960s. She also wished for her present-day marchers to speak out about topics that are of interest to people today.

She said she also hoped her school of more than 500 students would have a little fun along the way.

“We wanted to lift up their spirits,” Hyman-Medley said, especially after the recent violence that claimed the life of a Pleasantville 13-year-old late last year. “They’ve been excited ever since we told them about it last month.”

As soon as Hyman-Medley announced plans for the inaugural Rise Up March, she quickly received the approval of City Council, Mayor Jesse Tweedle and Police Chief Jose Ruiz.

“He said, ‘Tell me what you need me to do. My men will be there,’” Hyman-Medley said.

She also praised the efforts of South Main Street staff members Cynthia Stocks, Ericka Watson and Grace Ladia, who helped her put everything together in a short time.

“This is reminiscent of the marches of the 1960s,” Watson said, preparing to march with a reading “Stay in School.”

Each grade carried a different banner that brought attention to a different cause, said Watson, who was recently named South Main Street School teacher of the year.

Fifth-graders held banners that encouraged students to stay in school.

“People don’t realize it, but Pleasantville has the highest dropout rate in Atlantic County,” she said.

Fourth-graders spoke out against gun violence, she said. Younger grades marched to prevent gang violence.

Kindergarten students carried banners that read “Love One Another.”

“We wanted to make a connection to history and have a great time,” Watson said.

The group marched seven-tenths of a mile, walking down Broad Street, across West Glendale Avenue and up South Main Street to return to the school for a big rally on the front lawn.

“I am so proud of you,” Ruiz told the group assembled after the march.

He reminded students that the police department is always there to help them and to protect them.

“Remember, we are here for you,” he said.

City Councilman Lincoln Green spoke on behalf of Mayor Jessie Tweedle, who is at home recovering from knee surgery.

“Remember what you are doing today and carry it with you all the way through college,” Green said. “You are our future.”

“We are proud of you, and we are here for you,” Council President Judy Ward said.

“This was an excellent idea,” Ruiz said as he watched the students return to school.

Hyman-Medley took a deep breath when she was greeted by sunny skies and temperatures in the upper-40s at march time. Just a day before, an inch of snow covered the ground, and more was forecast for the following day.

“We planned this march a month ago,” she said. “Today we had great weather. God wanted us to have this march.”

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