CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) – After two tragedies, one family said it’s their responsibility to share their story and help each other heal.

Gun violence has been on the rise in Champaign for years. 2021 was a record-breaking year for homicides.

Almost ten years ago, Bobby White died during an armed home invasion in Champaign.

“He was with friends and someone just started to shoot inside the home and he was one of the ones that was hit by a bullet and didn’t survive,” his aunt, Shanna McGuire said.

His murder was never solved. Then, tragedy struck again.

“His mother is suffering. We’re all hurting. My brother died due to drug use… Why not heal together?” she said.

It’s personal. So, McGuire started planning a family reunion.

“And then I thought we can be an example for the community to do the same thing because I believe healing starts with your family,” she said.

She extended the invitation to neighbors, friends and community activist Maurice Hayes. She said if everyone feels the type of love that’s shared between family and works through their trauma, change can happen.

“We won’t be angry. Nobody will pick up a gun and want to be bitter and retaliate,” she said.

Hayes agrees with McGuire, and he spoke about his work combatting gun violence.

“It’s going to take those of us who may have experienced it in some way to be at the forefront of the fight to change the thought process,” he said.

He said his organization, HV Neighborhood Transformation, hopes to prevent young people from picking up guns in the first place.

“We want to be able to be preemptive in the way we attack this issue now instead of waiting for someone to die – or another balloon release or another candle vigil,” Hayes said.

But behind every homicide is a family who’s still grieving. And until the city sees an end to gun violence, they’ll need help too. That’s why McGuire said the reunion was about more than just honoring her nephew and brother. It was a call for others to join her fight for peace in Champaign.

“It takes everybody to do it,” McGuire said. “Everybody.”