COLUMBIA - A Columbia man started raising awareness of gun violence through a toy exchange beginning Tuesday afternoon.
Marcus Buford runs the non profit Operation K.I.T.E Foundation. The acronym is short for "keeping in touch eternally." The organization aims to tutor and mentor children while offering rides to see imprisoned parents.
However, with recent gun violence issues hitting the headlines, Buford was inspired to allow children to come in and exchange their toy guns for new and different toys, or $5 gift certificates.
Buford said he lost three close friends due to guns and is motivated every day to raise awareness of gun violence.
"It seems like every time we turn around, there's something in the news, something happening in our schools, something happening in our communities in a negative way. It's all associated with gun violence," Buford said. "Now is the proper time to address it and make some type of changes in a positive way."
He said it's imperative children are aware at a young age, as it will impact their behavior as they grow up.
"They tend to want to play with guns, cowboys and Indians, and unfortunately, in the African American community, cowboys and Indians progresses to the kid getting older and playing Bloods and Crips and actually taking lives," Buford said. "If we can try and contact the kid, intervene with the kid at a young age and give them a different set of tools if you will, or toys, I think that would go a long way to curving the violence that we see at an older age."
Buford said if just one child shows up to exchange a toy gun for a new toy, in his mind, the toy exchange was a success.
The toy exchange runs from Tuesday to around Christmas time at Operation K.I.T.E. For information on the drive, contact Marcus Buford at (573) 356-9928.