For those who suffered the loss of loved ones to crime, the holidays can be the most difficult time of the year.
“You’ll miss aunt Susie if she’s not there. You’ll miss her if she died of natural causes, but it’s much different when that life has been taken as a result of a violent act,” said Dorothy Johnson-Speight, president and founder of Mothers in Charge advocacy and support group. “It’s different because it brings about so many other kinds of emotions when someone’s life is taken deliberately. It makes it twice as hard to be joyful while dealing with the hurt, pain and anger of that loss.”
Johnson-Speight founded Mothers in Charge in 2003 to assist those who have lost family members to violence; a type of loss that Speight says is especially difficult to endure. It offers bi-weekly grief counseling sessions to help newly bereaved families cope. Tomorrow, the group will take its ramifications-of-violence message to the streets.
The group itself
Valerie Jackson, 56, who has attended grief-counseling session for the past two years, turned to the group after her oldest son was gunned down near a local club three years ago. After conversations with her church pastor, she turned to Mothers in Charge for support.
“My first year was really hard but then, as I was able to go to the counseling meetings and engage in some of the other services, it slowly got better,” she said. “What I really liked about it is the fact that they know your hurt, they know your pain. Sometimes family and friends they want you to get over it or they want to move on. But with MIC, we’ve all been through the same thing so when we’re together we can encourage one another through it, because we’ve been there.”
Betty N. Lee Davis facilitates the sessions. Davis, who earned a PhD from the graduate school of social work and social research from Bryn Mawr College, said her role is to remain objective, if not invisible.
“I have not experienced homicidal death of a loved one, and only those who have had that experience can comfort each other in a way that comes from having experienced that kind of trauma,” Davis said. “The essential piece is that they’re there for each other.”
Speight started Mothers in Charge to help mothers cope with the loss, but that mission has since expanded to cover a number of other social services. They include mentoring for young adults, advocating for violence prevention and partnerships with local churches such as Enon Tabernacle, who offer their facilities and assistance during meetings.
Motorcade to remember homicide victims
On Thursday, Mothers in Charge will lead a citywide motorcade as a remembrance of lost loved ones by reading the names of the 323 homicide victims in 2011. The motorcade – for which the group collaborated with Radio One, the Philadelphia Police Department and others – will begin at 1415 N. Broad St. around 4 p.m., making four stops along the route where the names of homicide victims will be read.
An expected 50 cars, police cruisers and even hearses will make stops in Grays Ferry, West Philadelphia and Brewerytown. The motorcade’s final stop will be in Germantown near Wister Street.
“It doesn’t happen overnight but in time, our healing comes,” Johnson said. “We will always carry this loss with us for the rest of our lives. But as times goes by we hope to handle it a little better.”