Mike Williams had done all the right things.
He had stayed out of trouble, earned a high school diploma, and completed his first year at Morehouse College.
So his mother was blindsided when she received a call from her son, home from school during the summer of 2006, saying he had been shot in the face and was in the hospital.
“It was the scariest feeling I had ever had in my entire life,” said Danielle Williams, of Roxbury.
Although her son survived, and graduated, she says she knows that not every man affected by gun violence is so lucky.
“The only thing I could think of after my son was shot was working so that not another mother would get a phone call like that about their son,” she said.
The Williamses were among more than 100 people whomarched Sunday from the Malcolm X Park to the Unity Plaza on Washington Street, in a rally organized by the Concerned Clergy of Boston, a group of black pastors, and an offshoot group, the Fathers Against the Murder Epidemic.
“We’re here on Father’s Day, our day, to show that changing our community will require sacrifice by black men,” said the Rev. Miniard Culpepper, pastor of Pleasant Hill Baptist Church in Roxbury and one of the event’s primary organizers. He said pastors have been meeting once a week for three months to plan the event.
“We’re out here making not only a statement, but a commitment to end these senseless murders.”
Culpepper, who has spent the last 15 years leading the church his grandfather built in 1939, said the march was not a response to a specific crime, but stems from an overwhelming frustration with gun violence in the black community.
“I reached the point that I decided that if I had to stand and walk by myself, I would.” he said.
As of Sunday, 21 homicides have occurred in the city during 2012, up from 17 at this point in 2011 but slightly fewer than the 23 the city has averaged through this point during the last five years, according to the Boston Police Department.
At least four of those killilngs have occurred in Roxbury, in addition to a number of non-fatal shootings, stabbings, and armed robberies.
“The amount of violence in our community was never acceptable, and we’re going to stand up against it now,” said John Lang, 45, of Roxbury, who helped coordinate the march. “As fathers, we have the ability to embrace our children and to bring this violence to an end.”
More than 20 pastors, some of whom had just delivered their morning sermons, joined the mile-and-a-half walk in their Sunday best.
“We need to be going to more graduations and less funerals,” declared the Rev. William Dickerson, of Greater Love Tabernacle Church in Dorchester.
“It is unacceptable that we have so many black and brown boys dying in the streets of Roxbury, Dorchester, and Mattapan and there is not an outcry that can be heard from here all the way to Washington.”
Numerous community leaders, political candidates, and elected officials were on hand. Many encouraged more interaction between community members and the city administration to stop the violence. But all of them stressed that change had to come from within the community.
“There is not a single problem in the black community that black men cannot solve,” said Bill Owens, a former state senator, standing in front of the Malcolm X- Ella Little-Collins House on Dale Street. “We’re not here to blame anybody. As Malcolm preached, we need to take care of ourselves and our community.”
Six years after being shot, Mike Williams, 25, is a case manager with Youth Options Unlimited. He is back in Roxbury working with teens and adults who have had run-ins with the court system.
“What we look to do is reinforce the message that they have support.” he said. “Most of them don’t have that support at home and are angry. They look to lash out and that’s how they end up in trouble, in jail, or worse.”
Williams said it is painful to know many of his neighborhood friends are either dead or incarcerated. He sees it as his calling to keep the next generation of black men off the streets, out of jail, and in the classroom.
“I know God kept me here for a reason.”