DENVER -- A small altar adorned the side of Kepner Legacy middle school in Denver's Westwood neighborhood. On it was tributes to the culture and community that has lost so much in the year 2020.
"This is an example of inviting the whole community to come to join us for peace," said Temok, a teacher of Aztek culture as he pointed at the altar. "Even though they passed away, we still remember them."
2020 has been an especially violent year in Denver's Westwood neighborhood as numerous young lives have been taken from shootings. The organizers of this prayer vigil say it is through their culture that they can heal.
"Our beliefs our culture is what makes us, what makes our families, what makes our communities," said Leo Alirez, the founder of Lifeline intervention services that helped put on the vigil. "Those identifications will one allow our communities to grieve the individuals properly but also to celebrate them properly as well. Because their lives have a specific meaning for us."
Gun violence has also been particularly hard on the Hispanic and Native communities in the Westwood neighborhood in 2020 as isolation has restricted human resources to the most vulnerable.
"We have had 210 shootings since January of 2020," said Alirez. "The individuals we are losing are promising individuals with amazing intelligence and they can make a difference within our world."
The vigil is part of a weekend of events, planned by political, civic, and religious leaders, to highlight the scar of gun violence in the Westwood neighborhood and begin a discussion about how to heal.
"This is about reclaiming the streets and the sidewalks that folks are afraid of," said Councilmember Jamie Torres of Denver's 3rd District which encompasses the Westwood neighborhood. "It is the recognition of who we are. And that we have the tools to deal with this."
As the community mourns and moves forward, the movement's leaders say there is no moving forward without community.
"Being able to unite one another, and share one another, there is nothing more beautiful than that," said Alirez. "It is priceless."