Ten years ago, any talk of the shooting victims of the North Valley Jewish Community Center would likely have been discouraging to hear, at best. Now two of the survivors, Mindy Finkelstein, 26, and Joshua Stepakoff, 16, have put the fear behind them and joined up with Women Against Gun Violence (WAGV) to organize Victory Over Violence, a 10-K run and 5-K run/walk and kids fun-run. Finkelstein chose the Los Angeles-based WAGV because it donates money to gun-violence victims and reinforces a zero-tolerance attitude about the use of guns by having victims tell their story in public venues. “Mindy and I wanted to do something positive to remember this day, to raise more awareness about gun violence,” Stepakoff said.
Sunday’s event, which began at the Matador Bookstore at Cal State Northridge, drew 400 participants and 70 volunteers. The grassy area in front of the Matador Bookstore was lined with tents with offerings of food and informational materials. The Los Angeles Police Department tent included a table stacked with guns, a not-so-subtle reminder of why everyone was there. In front of the stage where Finkelstein and Stepakoff were to kick off the race, a small area was taped off with yellow, crime tape. Finkelstein called it, the “Silent Shoe Display.” A patch of grass held shoes of all shapes and sizes, marked by signs with names and ages of victims of gun violence.
Despite an early morning call for the beginning of the race, all were smiles at the starting line. A few of Finkelstein’s friends donned Friends of Fink T-shirts to walk the streets of Northridge so that any passerby would “know who it is that we are proud of,” Kim Underell said.
Indeed, Friends of Fink were the top fundraisers for the event, bringing in $3,125. Proceeds from the walk will all go to the WAGV foundation, Finkelstein said, adding, “Josh and I would like to make it an annual event if possible.” Finkelstein and Stepakoff were honored by WAGV in May with a Courageous Leader Award, and the organization plans to have them speak at various future events.