‘I’m not by myself’: Philadelphia’s Parents of Murdered Children chapter gathers for pre-Thanksgiving dinner

Board member Jessica Whitfield serves Thanksgiving dishes at the POMC pre-Thanksgiving dinner. (Sam Searles/WHYY)

Board member Jessica Whitfield serves Thanksgiving dishes at the POMC pre-Thanksgiving dinner. (Sam Searles/WHYY)

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People who have lost family members and other loved ones to violence have found a special bond in the Central Philadelphia chapter of Parents of Murdered Children.

On Sunday, they gathered inside Willow Grove Baptist Church for a pre-Thanksgiving dinner, turning what could be a difficult time into one of fellowship. Families shared turkey, ham, stuffing, and more Thanksgiving dishes with community organizers, members of the Office of Victim Advocates, and legal aides.

A plate of Thanksgiving tradition at the POMC pre-Thanksgiving dinner. (Sam Searles/WHYY)

Jessica Whitfield, a board member of POMC’s Central Philadelphia chapter, said the group has grown since it began in 2020 to serve 40 families across the Delaware Valley. Part of the dinner’s purpose was to connect families to each other during the holidays, but it was also a place to get help from the larger community.

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“So many… feel let down by our criminal justice system,” she wrote in the invitation. “Many parents feel alone and forgotten and that they don’t matter or their child did not matter. We seek to break bread together and get them connected to the resources they need within our city.”

Tamika Morales’ son Ahmad was killed in 2020 and his case remains unsolved. She says POMC and its members have been there for her consistently. “The support of them is something that I needed… Jessica is really supportive in that way because anything that I had for my son? She basically shows up, and I try to support her the same way.”

Yolanda Jennings became familiar with POMC years ago after her sister was lost to domestic violence. Jennings now works as the Philadelphia chapter coordinator for Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice, an advocacy and support group.

“Violence touches everybody,” she said. “So now there is a community of people who understands… My parents actually were a part of our POMC and it really was a blessing for them.”

The Rev. Leroy West, a director of the chapter whose daughter was killed in 2016, spoke to the group after dinner was served. “Counseling may be good for some people,” he said. “Please, if you feel like it’s for you, go. When I show up at a POMC meeting, when I come to events like this, this is what helps me.”

Revered Leroy West addresses the group gathered at the Willow Grove Baptist Church for the first annual pre-Thanksgiving dinner hosted by the Philly chapter of Parents of Murdered Children/POMC. (Sam Searles/WHYY)

West hosts a radio show to reach out to both victims and perpetrators of violence. “I want people to hear the hurt and the pain… because you don’t know who’s listening. It might change the heart of somebody who potentially may be out there trying to kill somebody.”

After dinner was served, West reiterated the chapter’s goals to provide community: “When you’ve lost a loved one, you’re dealing with [having to] sit down at the table and the person is just not there… we want people to feel free to be able to speak what’s on their heart. You can’t turn on a TV without hearing something, you know? And this is a way of people just coming together and saying, ‘Hey, I’m not by myself. I’m not alone.’”

If you or someone you know has been affected by gun violence in Philadelphia, you can find grief support and resources online.

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Sam Searles is a Report for America corps member covering gun violence and prevention for WHYY News.

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