COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — The fight to end gun violence continued Friday night in Columbus.

Pastor Mark Hampton — the leader of Fresh Start Worship Center — stopped short of calling the Vergewe Summit his idea. “It’s God’s idea,” Pastor Hampton said, referring to himself as the “visionary.”

Vergewe, he said, means “Forgiven” in Afrikaans.

“I am forgiven. I am Vergewe. You can’t hold it against me. My past is over. My future is ahead of me,” said apostle Niki Hampton, the keynote speaker Friday evening.

The citywide summit was held at the Hope City House of Prayer.

More than a dozen religious leaders, city leaders and activists put the event together over a seven-month period. The vision from Pastor Hampton was to confront young Black men with a question: “Will you choose to live?”

“We have to make a decision to support their decisions. If we don’t make a decision to be the
scaffolding in which they build the rest of their lives on, their building is going to crumble,” Pastor Hampton said.

With a teenager in the hospital after being shot near the Linden Community Center on Wednesday, and in another incident, a 19-year-old charged with murder after he allegedly shot and killed another man on a basketball court at a gym — gun violence has been and is pervasive in Columbus.

“Those who are committing the crimes are younger than they’ve ever been. The crimes are more violent than they’ve ever been. They haven’t even started to live yet,” Pastor Hampton said.

Several speakers at the summit testified, where guns, drugs, gangs, and more were discussed
from past lived experiences.

Dy’Quan Prater is 14 years old.

“Some of my family have died to the gun violence. A lot of kids usually think it’s cool. People my age use guns and think it’s cool and do drugs, but it’s not worth it,” Prater said.

Other teens who attended took lessons from the speakers, they said — with something different sticking out to each one.

For 15-year-old KJ Williams, he took away being mindful of the people he chooses to hang out with.

“Once you separate yourself from the type of folks or find a new crew to hang with, that puts positivity in your mind, you’ll definitely understand how to live,” he said.

Triandious Kelly, 17, is president of the We Are Linden group, and he is spreading positivity and responsibility in their neighborhood. A different lesson stuck to him: “How our actions affect our surroundings. It was more about thinking before acting,” he said.

At the end of the summit, each attendee was asked to fill out a card with their information and a promise, which was a decision to live.

“I think it’s powerful. I made the decision to live,” Prater said.