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    Families, city leaders walk to spread Father’s Day message of unity

    Boston, MA -- 6/18/2017 - Akeem Jackson (C) carries his daughter Aubrey, 3, on his shoulders during the Father's Day Unity Walk. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff) Topic: 19fathers Reporter:
    Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff
    Akeem Jackson carried his daughter Aubrey, 3, the during Boston’s third annual Father's Day Unity Walk.

    Roxbury drivers tooted their horns and passersby shouted Father’s Day greetings from the sidewalks Sunday as families and city leaders walked through the streets to spread a message:

    Fathers want a safer city for their children.

    “Violence happens in some way, shape, or form, but it doesn’t have to happen,” said one Roxbury father, Daniel Perez, 35. “The more we’re involved, the more we’re concerned, the more we take our streets back, we say, ‘Enough is enough.’ ”


    Perez had his 7-year-old son — one of his five children — by his side as he walked in the city’s third annual Father’s Day Unity Walk Sunday.

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    “Father’s Day is more than just a cookout. Father’s Day is about showing up, showing face, and saying, ‘I’m here,’ ” Perez said. “I need to show my son that we are part of the community.”

    Organized by the Boston Police Department and other city partners, the walk started and ended at El Parquecito De La Hermandad, looping from Seaver Street to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and back.

    A Boston radio station, the New 97.7, played music at the park, and event leaders handed out treats from an ice cream truck to groups of tired but excited children when the walk ended.

    Standing in the park before the walk began, Levar Martin, 40, pointed to the Roxbury street behind him and reminisced about the challenges he faced growing up there.


    “As far as bad kids go, I probably was one of the worst,” said Martin, standing next to his three sons, ages 6, 8, and 14. “I don’t want that for my children.”

    Martin also participated in the walk last year, and he said it’s a way to take pride in the work he has done as a father and encourage his children to always keep an open mind to the world around them.

    “Boston together is stronger together,” said Martin’s 14-year-old son, T.J. Thompson, who said the annual walk allows families to spend time together while spreading strength and love.

    Many mothers walked alongside fathers, hoping to create an even more united front with both parents standing up against violence.

    Phanenca Babio-James, 42, came from Framingham to participate in the walk with her husband and their two children. As a mother, she said, she wanted to support her husband and the other men in the community.


    “On Father’s Day, they’re giving up their time to make a statement,” she said while walking on Humboldt Avenue with the sound of music emanating from First Christian Union Church. “It shows that the men in the community care.”

    And that’s what it’s all about, Police Commissioner William B. Evans told the crowd of about 100 before the walk started.

    “Walking the streets saying that we don’t want the young kids hurt,” he said. “We don’t like the violence, and [we’re] trying to keep this momentum going throughout the summer.”

    Police Chief William Gross thanked both mothers and fathers for the roles they play in the lives of their children.

    He also thanked anyone in the crowd who has served as a father figure to someone who may not share blood with the child they mentor. Gross said his mother was a single parent, and his “other parent was the community.”

    “The most important thing that this showcases is to the youth in our community that adults are leading the way so that they can travel a road that’s much more smoother than we had it,” he said.

    Evans and Gross were joined by Mayor Martin J. Walsh and city councilors Tito Jackson and Ayanna Pressley, among other city leaders, in walking the route, despite the humidity and a few sprinkles of rain.

    Walsh, who spoke to the crowd beforehand and told them to treat Father’s Day as a day of unity, said after the walk that Sunday’s event was a way to alter the conversations about Boston’s more dangerous neighborhoods.

    “These kids grow up on these streets. I mean, they’ve got to hear a positive message,” he said. “I think unity is something that’s really important to talk about. They can’t think that they grew up in a war zone. We have to turn these streets around for these kids.”

    Boston, MA -- 6/18/2017 - People take part in the Father's Day Unity Walk. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff) Topic: 19fathers Reporter:
    Scores of people took part in the Father’s Day walk in mostly sunny weather.

    Felicia Gans can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @FeliciaGans.