GREENVILLE, S.C. (WSPA) – An organization in downtown Greenville is hoping that Martin Luther King Day can serve as a reminder as to how the community can help fight gun violence.
As many Greenville residents spent Sunday outside to enjoy the warm weather, they were met in Falls Park with a powerful display. 400 pairs of shoes, each representing a person who has died from gun violence in South Carolina in the past year. Organizers said many people walking by were overcome with emotion as this kind of visual shows what statistics can’t.
It’s a part of the Empty Shoes Project, something Freedom Fighters Upstate organizer Traci Fant said she put together to give people a visual representation of gun violence statistics in the state.
“You know it’s very easy to read a number on paper, to read the number 400, but when you see 400 pairs of empty shoes, you can put that with a person,” said Fant.
She said she sees two people from her own life behind these shoes, which drives her to bring awareness to the issue.
“I lost two brothers to gun violence years ago and I’ve always been a part of the stop the violence movement,” said Fant.
Some volunteers, like Justice Richardson, also have a personal connection to the issue, but in a different way.
“I was once one of the ones shooting guns, right, so that’s my personal connection to it and I’ve lost a few friends to it, but you know thankfully by the grace of god I grew up and matured,” said Justice Richardson, volunteer. “So now the goal is to try to teach as many young men that sit in the position I was in years ago and try to get them to see the value in their life and the value of life period because until you value your life, you’re not going to value anyone else’s life.”
The organization says MLK Day felt like the perfect time to put this together, as Dr. King serves as a big inspiration to their group and was ultimately a victim of what they advocate for.
“I always feel like we should go back to those ways and to those messages and remember you know, those who spearheaded those things, those who triumphed in those positions, the unfortunate part about Dr. King, is he lost his life to gun violence as well,” said Fant.
Moving forward Richardson said they hope more visualizations like these will open more people’s eyes to what’s going on.
“The world is moving so fast, everything is now now now, sometimes you gotta stop and look at stuff like this and kind of help you put things into perspective,” said Richardson.
They hope the community remembers the way this impacts everyone.
“It really started a conversation, a much-needed conversation, and it made people realize that this affects all of us, this affects all of us,” said Fant. “It’s not a black or white thing, it’s a community issue and as a community, we need to figure out how to address this issue and how to curb violence.”
The shoes were donated by members of the community, some of which were owned by a victim of gun violence. After the display is taken down, the shoes will be donated to the homeless and people who live in underprivileged communities.