Even though this is the Seventh Annual Stop the Violence Cookout, the name—and the need—remain relevant.
The cookout began following a double homicide in Manatee County seven years ago, along with a handful of other murders in the area. At that time, Streets of Paradise founder Greg Cruz organized unity marches with the victims’ family members. They visited the homicide sites and spoke out about the effects of violence on their families and communities.
“When one of these marches wrapped up, we wondered what more we could do. Being that I’m from New York City, it’s block parties and cookouts. So I thought, 'Let’s do an old-school cookout, where you can meet your neighbor and have your kids play together,'” Cruz says.
Now the event is back back after a two-year, pandemic-induced hiatus. It's a come-one-come-all, gathering with food, fun, live music, vendors, art, games and face painting. Volunteers from ALSO Youth will lead a dove release and a pledge to build a better future together in remembrance of victims of violence.
There will also be free food, thanks to the BBQ Boyz and its eight-foot barrel grill, along with vegan options. Reggae band Jah Movement is performing live, and local vocalist Alana Sherman, a top contestant on American Idol last year, will also perform.
In 2019, more than 800 people attended. Traditionally held at Payne Park, this time around the event will take place in the Rosemary District. It will be both indoors and outdoors at the Love~Act~Repeat art gallery, a community gathering and art hub on Central Avenue that Cruz also founded.
And it really is an all-free event. As a single father with three children, Cruz understands how costly a day out can be with the family in tow, and wants no financial barriers to keep anyone from enjoying the day. Thanks to donors and sponsorships, items like toys, backpacks and other supplies will also be distributed. As City of Sarasota mayors have in previous years, Mayor Erik Arroyo will also be there to proclaim the day as “Stop the Violence Day.”
“There have been 212 mass shootings already this year,” Cruz says. “It’s unfortunate we never run out of incidents to draw upon for the theme of this event. Organizing this is our drop in the bucket toward healing, but I’d love to get to the point when we’re not talking about the violence and loss of life from last night or week and instead talk about it from years ago."
The Stop the Violence cookout will be Sunday, June 5, from 1 -5 p.m. at 734 Central Ave., Sarasota. Sponsors and volunteers can sign up here.