PORTSMOUTH, Va. — Near the Portsmouth Fire Station on Effingham Street, a "Keep Portsmouth Beautiful" sign is posted along the sidewalk.
Monica Atkins, a native of the city, said she and her team clean a stretch of the road several times a year. The effort is dedicated to her son, Antonio Atkins, who was shot just steps away from where the sign stands.
"December the 5th, 2014... My son was 25 years of age," Atkins said.
"He was on his way driving down Effingham Street, taking his girlfriend home. And somebody brutally pulled up on the car and shot the car up... Still today, we don't know no motives of anything."
Court documents revealed the shooting happened around 2 a.m. near the intersection of Effingham and Duke streets following an altercation in another location with "unknown subjects."
A 25-year-old female passenger was also hurt in the shooting. Tragically, Antonio died at the scene.
However, Monica said she chooses to remember how Antonio lived.
"My son's personality was everything. His mannerism was just out of this world because he was never disrespectful," Atkins said. "My son would never part ways without saying, 'Mom, I love you'."
Nearly four years after Antonio's death, Monica started the nonprofit 'Stop The Violence 757' to spread awareness and provide support for victims, families and communities.
"We do a dinner catered to individuals who lost loved ones to gun violence. We acknowledge nonprofits that's being overlooked in the community... Some years, we gave away scholarships," she said. "We just not on social media to be seen. We're actually in the communities."
2022 saw a record number of homicides in Hampton Roads. Monica said this is a crisis and action must be taken now.
"We are numb. And that's not normal," Atkins said. "Get involved. Get your children involved. Check your children when they are wrong. Be the parent and not their friends."
The nonprofit is constantly working to eradicate gun violence. Monica said her strength to keep fighting comes from God and Antonio.
"My son was my everything. He was my best friend. I mean, looking at me is like looking at him," she said.
"When they took my son, to me, they messed with the wrong parent. Because I refuse to be quiet. I'm going to continue to spread awareness. I'm going to continue to build my son's legacy," Atkins said.
"This is who I am. I love being a change in the community, or at least trying to be the change."