Gun violence victim honored with annual ‘Max Day’ in Stamford

Photo of Verónica Del Valle

STAMFORD — Jackie Robinson Park felt like a block party on Tuesday night. In more ways than one, it was.

Funk music blasted from the professional-grade speakers. One person paraded around the green holding a bottle of champagne by the neck and taking swigs. Elementary school kids laughed while rolling around in the grass. Packs of teenagers joked and tossed basketballs while waiting for a three-on-three game scheduled for the occasion at the Boys and Girls Club.

And near every cluster of friends, children, and family members stood at least one person wearing a bright orange shirt emblazoned with Max Antoine’s face.

The celebration marked the first annual Max Day — a celebration of the late Antoine hosted by his brother, Wilner Joseph. Antoine was killed four years prior after leaving a party in Bridgeport. Antoine, who had two teenage daughters and a son, spent most of his life in Stamford, attending Westover Elementary School and Turn of River Middle School before graduating from Westhill High Scholl.

Since then, Joseph has used his brother’s memory to bring attention to gun violence prevention initiatives in Stamford and beyond.

“The past four years have been hard, but it’s been a blessing,” Joseph told the crowd of people spilling out of the park. “I turned my pain into power.”

After his brother’s death, Joseph founded Hoops 4 All and Million Dollar Smile: two organizations meant to commemorate Antoine.

Even Mayor David Martin appeared to make the celebration more official and issued a proclamation from the city to make Max Day — April 20 of every year — an annual affair.

“It’s no longer national Weed Day,” Joseph joked:” It’s Max Day.”

Even while celebrating Antoine’s life, the crowd understood that a city-wide holiday wouldn’t cure gun violence in Stamford or nationally. Martin admitted that much to onlookers while pulling the attention from Antoine to 19-year-old Courtney Lewis.

“I don’t know exactly what happened, but it was just easy to pull out a gun and start shooting,” the mayor said.

Lewis was fatally shot on Sunday night at a “car meet” in the West Side. Two other people sustained injuries in the shooting. After a number of killings in Stamford throughout 2020, Lewis’s death was the second this year.

“I’m tired of going to candlelight vigils. I’m tired of going to funerals,” Joseph said.

The sentiment was shared by the entire crowd.

“When we lose somebody in our community,” remarked Stamford resident Darren Bell, “we’re really losing a piece of ourselves.”