Items that Marisol deLeon, a South Bronx native who lost her son to gun violence in 2013, contributed to the Gun Violence Memorial.

Bronx Documentary Center helps collect memorabilia for gun violence memorial in D.C.

On a brisk November day, Marisol deLeon stepped out of her home and made her way to the Bronx Documentary Center. The 50-year-old South Bronx resident had a dove-shaped ornament, a necklace imprinted with the words “I do, I do” and a picture frame with her.

However, deLeon was not dropping off holiday gifts. She was bringing memorabilia to be displayed at the Gun Violence Memorial Project in Washington, D.C., to honor her son, Christopher Tashane Byrd, who had fallen victim to gun violence in 2013 at the age of 26.

“In the South Bronx, I think that we are numb to these types of situations. It happens, we hear the gunshots, we move forward,” deLeon said. “People need to wake up and realize that this is not how we should live, that’s not life for our kids or us.”

The Bronx Documentary Center hosted the Gun Violence Memorial Project this November, inviting South Bronx community members to contribute items to the project’s ongoing memorial, which is open to the public at the National Building Museum in D.C.

The exhibit is composed of four glass houses, each containing 700 glass bricks into which memorabilia are placed. The bricks display the name, year of birth and year of death of each person being honored. Project workers tour cities across the country on a rolling basis to collect items.

The memorial, created by the MASS Design Group with the help of several gun violence prevention organizations, was first installed in Chicago in 2019 and then later brought to D.C. The goal of the project was to bring closer attention to the victims and families affected by gun violence, rather than wave off their stories as mere statistics.

The team initially set up a drop-off point last year in Battery Park, Manhattan, but then realized that the location was largely inaccessible to families most impacted by gun violence in New York City.

During a following visit to the city, the team set up four collection sites across the boroughs, including one in the South Bronx. Project members collected roughly 50 items across the four sites between Nov. 10 and 14.

As of Dec. 5, there have been 484 shooting incidents in the Bronx, a 33.7% increase from the same time period last year. In the 28 days ending on Dec. 5, there have been 47 shootings in the borough, a 104.3% increase from the same period in 2020, according to the latest NYPD data.

The items deLeon had dropped off had many layers of personal significance. The dove-shaped ornament represented her son, who “is flying high and at peace in heaven,” she explained. The words engraved on the necklace “I do, I do” were the words her son said to her whenever she had told him she loved him, from early childhood into his short adulthood.

The picture frame contained a photo of her son, captioned, “A part of my heart lives in heaven,” because that was her truth.

DeLeon had received notice of the drop-off location through her local chapter of Moms Demand Action, a grassroots organization fighting for public safety measures to reduce gun violence. She has been one of many families in the South Bronx that have decided to take part in the memorial.

Photo courtesy of the Bronx Documentary Center. A piece of memorabilia that was contributed to the exhibit by a South Bronx resident.

“I think the most beautiful thing that happens at these events, and it’s happened a lot this weekend, is when multiple families come to drop off (an item) and then it becomes a place for people to tell stories, and so it becomes a place of healing for a lot of families,” said Emily Ebersol, 24, a design fellow with MASS Design Group.

DeLeon hopes that the memorial will allow others to take a walk in her shoes.

“Listen to the things we hear, look at the things we see, and understand that this is a real situation,” said deLeon. “It’s not a story in a book, or in the paper, or on the TV … This is happening and it’s real. And my son is buried because it happened.”

While the collection process at the Bronx Documentary Center has ended for this year, the Gun Violence Memorial Project expects to be back to collect more items in the spring. Project workers are also creating a process for individuals who are unable to make it to drop-off locations to mail-in items.

For updates on upcoming local collection events, send an email to participate@maadesigngroup.org to be added to the mailing list.

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