Activists raise voices vs guns

Janet Mandel (c.) joins southeast Queens community members in calling for an end to violence. Photo by Rich Bockmann
TimesLedger Newspapers
Share on TwitterTweet
Share on Facebook

Get our stories in your inbox, free.

Like TimesLedger on Facebook.

A powerful soprano voice belted out a song lamenting loss as community members gathered in Jamaica Monday to take a stand against violence.

“Seems like to me the stars don’t shine so bright/Seems to me like the sun has lost its light/Seems like to me there’s nothing going right,” opera singer and voice coach Janet Mandel sang inside the downtown Jamaica Market. “Since you went away.”

Parents who lost their sons to violence, community activists and men who know first-hand how dangerous it can be to be young and black came together at the call of 100 Suits for 100 Men President Kevin Livingston, who provides professional attire to those in need.

After her husband — renowned voice coach Sam Sakarian — died, Mandel was looking for something meaningful to do with his impressive wardrobe, and when she saw Livingston profiled on NY1 she decided she would donate his clothing to a good cause.

“I cried and said, ‘That’s where Sam’s clothing has to go,’” she said. “He had a lot of sport coats, shirts, ties, shoes, raincoats and some beautiful overcoats.”

Mandel’s selection, “Sence You Went Away,” was written in the 1920s by James Weldon Johnson who, along with his brother John Rosamond Johnson, is probably best known for writing “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” sometimes called the black national anthem.

The song is written in an African-American Southern dialect, and Mandel said it never got the credit it deserved because its authors were black.

“I thought to myself, ‘I’m going to revive it,’” she said. “It’s a beautiful, heartbreaking song.”

“Seems like to me I just can’t help but sigh,” the song’s lyrics go, noting how days seem longer when all you can think about is the person who is not there.

It is a feeling Penny Wrencher knows well.

“It’s so painful for me,” she said through tears as she explained there has been no arrest made in the five years since her son, Andre Saunders, was gunned down at the South Jamaica Houses in 2009. “It has to stop! All this killing and for what? It’s nonsense.”

Wrencher holds a clothing drive every year in honor of Saunders, who was a Metropolitan Transportation Authority bus operator and aspiring hip-hop artist.

“He was a giving, loving person,” she said. “There’s no better way to honor him than to give.”

The summer has been off to a violent start. Last month a 14-year-old girl was killed when a gunman opened fire on a city bus in South Jamaica, and during the first weekend in June 26 people were shot in the city in a 72-hour period.

One of the victims was a 33-year-old father who was killed as he sat inside his car outside the South Jamaica Houses just a few blocks from where Saunders was killed.

Jahar Luchie, 22, said he is a former Crip gang member who decided enough is enough.

“Seeing all this black-on-black crime, it’s like a black Holocaust,” he said. “We need to educate ourselves and stick together.”

City Council candidate Manny Caughman said he supports the use of scanners that would allow the NYPD to detect guns in an effort to reduce violence.

William Bell, whose son Sean was killed in a high-profile police shooting in 2006, said Livingston’s clothing donations are appreciated by the visitors to the Sean Elijah Bell Community Center.

“I can’t keep clothes at the center,” he said. “And that’s a good thing.”

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4574.

Posted 2:33 am, June 14, 2013
Today’s news:
Share on TwitterTweet
Share on Facebook

Get our stories in your inbox, free.

Like TimesLedger on Facebook.

Reader feedback

silent from jamaica says:
I'm telling you, we need the troops to mandate order.if they see the troops with ak47s and other things like bombs. I bet these punks will stop their sh..! We can prevent more deaths this way. Please send the troops to South jamaica queens!!!! Kids are dying every year and every couple of months.
June 17, 2013, 8:57 pm

Enter your comment below

By submitting this comment, you agree to the following terms:

You agree that you, and not or its affiliates, are fully responsible for the content that you post. You agree not to post any abusive, obscene, vulgar, slanderous, hateful, threatening or sexually-oriented material or any material that may violate applicable law; doing so may lead to the removal of your post and to your being permanently banned from posting to the site. You grant to the royalty-free, irrevocable, perpetual and fully sublicensable license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, perform and display such content in whole or in part world-wide and to incorporate it in other works in any form, media or technology now known or later developed.

CNG: Community Newspaper Group