Balloons over Bullets: Stockton groups bring water fun to combat violence

By Emma Franklin Henterly
Posted May 19, 2018 at 6:48 PM
Updated May 19, 2018 at 6:48 PM

STOCKTON — Harmoni Johns stopped, wound up her arm and launched a yellow water balloon at her target.

“This is great,” the 6-year-old said, her neon pink top and turquoise shorts sopping wet as water continued to splash all around her.

She and dozens of other children of all ages armed themselves with water balloons and water guns as they darted in all directions, laughing, shouting and enjoying a sunny Saturday afternoon at Gleason Park.

Stockton native DeMar Johnson helped organize Balloons over Bullets, a water bash to bring positive activities to the city’s children. With all the violence and shootings that never stop, it’s important to give these kids a future, he said.

“My hope is that this is one more thing for kids,” he said. “It’s one more activity that kids can do outside that’s positive, rather than adding to the problem.”

Johnson held the first Balloons over Bullets in April at Cesar Chavez High School but felt he needed to expand his reach to all of Stockton youth. In early May, the organizers hosted an event at Panella Park.

The free family event, which includes other activities such as a barbecue, a kickball game and a Slip-N-Slide relay, is made possible by a coalition between three Stockton organizations: Hopes and Dreams, Lions and Queens, and Balloons over Bullets.

Many young people in Stockton are exposed to violence and have come to expect it and believe it’s normal, said Jefferson Stricklen, executive director of Lions and Queens. This is a way to show them that there’s a better life out there.

“Life can be good, life can be fun,” he said. “We decided to pick a community to go to and let them come out and enjoy life. A lot of our youth and our families have become hostages in their communities and it’s going to take us to break that.”

Communities rely on politicians but they can’t fix the problems, Stricklen said. It’s up to community members to take initiative to return love and fun to their neighborhoods.

Shakayla Robinson said she brought out her 2-year-old son to have fun, and he seemed to really enjoy it.

This is a great event because it brings people together and it’s an activity for the kids, she said.

“If we’re not out here trying to make (life) better, than what are we doing,” Johnson said.

The organizers said more Balloons over Bullets events are planned for the summer. For information, people can find DeMar Johnson on Facebook.

Contact reporter Almendra Carpizo at (209) 546-8264 or Follow her on Twitter @AlmendraCarpizo.