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Concrete Wall


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Larita Rice-Barnes

Executive Director and Founder

Larita is the Founder and Executive Director of Metro East Organizing Coalition. She is a faith-based grassroots organizer. She has dedicated her life and work to the betterment of the world around her. She is an advocate for racial and economic dignity. She mobilizes and organizes communities of faith to build power.

She is a sought-out speaker, advocate for gun violence reduction and chaplaincy in urban communities. Larita is a survivor of gun violence. She is a victim’s rights and mental health advocate and acts as liaison for parents and students with school officials.

She serves as Senior Pastor and founder of Empowerment Of Grace USA and Empowerment Of Grace-Uganda. In 2007, she founded Women of Excellence Midwest, an organization established as a safe haven for battered, abused, and rejected women to heal and be emboldened to move forward.

She served as the Social Justice Chair at Eden Theological Seminary where she earned her Master of Arts in Professional Studies degree and launched and led an Urban Chaplaincy program where participants earned a certificate for their participation.

She is a global leader and political advisor for members of parliament in several countries and has founded Global Impact Leadership Alliance (GILA),™ an organization built on the commitment of meeting the needs of developing nations and providing a platform for cultural and economic exchange.

She is the founder and lead organizer of the annual RESET America RESET Africa Conference, a conference that focuses on the key areas of influence: business, arts and entertainment, media, family, government, religion, and education, brings together heads of state and key policy makers from across the globe and fosters creative dialogue for cooperation while also participating in local government and receiving recognition for her work.

She is a 2016 recipient of the President Barack Obama Lifetime Achievement Award for Volunteer Services and a 2021 recipient of the President Joe Biden Lifetime Achievement Award for Volunteer Services. She has shared the stage with many of the industry’s leading speakers and singers and personalities.

Carolyn Rice-Smith

Community Outreach Family Coordinator

She is a lifelong resident of the great City of East St Louis Illinois. It's not only a place she loves but it's one she has great care and compassion for the community at large. She is a wife, mother, grandmother and so much more. She comes from a strong bloodline rooted in God and Faith. She is an Ordained Elder of Empowerment of Grace. She is dedicated to being visible in the community, whether it's showing up at a march, preaching outside or praying on the parking lot at the grocery store. She's dedicated much time to the elderly, for whom her love and compassion runs real deep. Whether it's tending to their needs or just listening to their back down memory lane stories that gives them so much joy.

She is commonly known for the care she extends not only to those she knows but also to the homeless or strangers alike. For she understands that relationship building is key to getting healthy results. Although this is not always an easy task, she's dedicated to establishing trust. She's also one of the Co-Authors in the book My Pink Stilettos, a must read. Featuring 17 women from 5 continents across the globe Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, and South America. She also serves as a Grandparent on the East St Louis District 189 student Wellness/ Discipline Task Force. As well as a spokesperson for Parents and Guardians United East St Louis District 189.

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She's also a published Poet in the book, Famous poets of the heartland featuring her poem "Dreams". Realizing that no matter the feat or odds that can be against oneself. A spark of hope and a little gleaming light can give way to one's greatest outcome. Then certainly, not last nor least. She is the CEO and Founder Of "Out Of Bondage." Extended - A Step Into Destiny Man To Man. This organization is dedicated to reach and serve communities of color. We target those that have been victimized and or stigmatized by life circumstances or oppressive systems. To maximize and impact them by building esteem and transforming lives through Mentorships, Workshops, and Therapies. To produce long-term positive development in families, communities and abroad.

Zenda Edwards

Community Violence Outreach Coordinator

Zenda is a woman of faith that does nothing towards others without seeking the  presence of God.  She was born and raised right in the city of East St. Louis. She is a gun violence survivor / victim. While growing up in the community of East St Louis, she has survived multiple gun violence shootings starting from the age of eleven. Even during her most trying times, she strives to give back to her community what God has given her. That’s peace, protection, understanding, knowledge, and wisdom.

She is a saved woman of God that loves to help others in any way that she can. Zenda is an advocate to stop gun violence. She believes its affect continues to cause too much pain and suffering to families and the community.

She also advocates for resources and support to be made available to families who have been affected by gun violence as well as resources to prevent gun violence. She is found always giving to her community by volunteering herself to do whatever she can to make her community a better and safer place.

She is called upon often to play a part in the funerals of those who have lost their lives to gun violence. She loves children. Being a mother of 7, she enjoys talking with children of all ages, encouraging them to do what is right and sharing with them how to walk with the Lord. Her hearts desire is to just be of assistance in any way that she can. 

Abstract Sand

Juard M. Barnes

Subject Matter Expert : Violence Intervention

Juard M. Barnes is Principal and Founder at The Rehoboth Project. He has nearly 40 years of experience as a community organizer and violence prevention specialist helping organizations and cities worldwide to achieve community safety. As the former Deputy Director of Faith In Indiana, Midwest Regional Director of Faith In Action and Live FREE, Convener for the Black Church PAC he has engaged in and won multi-billion dollar campaigns for community safety and Democracy.


As Senior Advisor for Communities of Practice at The Health Alliance for Violence Intervention (The HAVI), specializing in advocacy, training, and Technical Assistance in the CVI Ecosystem, Juard recently served as project lead for the White House Community Violence Intervention Collaborative, (CVIC) helping to create powerful CVI leadership for 16 jurisdictions nationwide.

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