‘No words to describe the pain’: Mothers in Charge gathered to remember Philly’s gun violence victim
Layla A. Jones - Philly Inquirer
The event was part of the National Day of Remembrance for Homicide Victims, designated by Congress in 2007 on the same date 19-year-old Lisa Hullinger was murdered in Germany in 1978.
Families came together on Sunday afternoon to grieve and honor their loved ones, and to hope and heal at a National Day of Remembrance for Homicide Victims event organized by antiviolence group Mothers In Charge.
Said Mothers In Charge founder Dorothy Johnson-Speight, hers is a club you don’t want to be a part of, and a gathering no one wants to be invited to.
“There’s no words to describe the pain that is felt when someone loses a loved one to violence,” Johnson-Speight said. “And if you’ve never experienced it, you don’t have a clue. But yet today so many families are experiencing it.”
Held at Location 215 in Spring Garden, this year’s event featured massage chairs, catered food, and mugs filled with candy and a $100 Target gift card for mothers, along with painful but encouraging speeches from women who’ve lost children to gun violence. A decorated banquet room was filled with families wearing shirts and holding images of their murdered loved ones.
In a powerful display of grief and commemoration, family members of more than a dozen murdered Philadelphians stood and held those images high. Then, they said the names of those loved ones aloud.
Among those lost to violence was Charles “Chali Khan” Gossett, a producer, director, and community advocate who was shot and killed over the Labor Day weekend.
Another was Zykeem Thomas, who was killed in July 2021 at 27 years old. His mother, Rebecca Thomas, admitted before the packed room that she was only just beginning to face her own grief and loss.
“From July to September, I was a wreck,” Thomas said. Zykeem was her oldest son. “I sat at the door, I looked out the door for hours waiting for my son to come up the walkway.” After prayers at church, Thomas, who is part of Mothers In Charge, said only then was she able to begin moving forward. She showcased an intricate drawing done by her son, one she said she hadn’t been able to look at for more than a year.
“There’s hope in seeing that there’s another mother who can share with you their journey, and how they got to where they are today,” said Johnson-Speight.
The National Day of Remembrance was designated by Congress in 2007 on the same date 19-year-old Lisa Hullinger was murdered in Germany in 1978. Following her death, her parents founded Parents of Murdered Children.
“It reminds the country of the pain and grief that so many families suffer,” Johnson-Speight said. “It’s a different kind of pain than any other loss...because someone made a conscious decision to take another person’s life.”
In a statement commemorating the day, District Attorney Larry Krasner’s office said it “seeks accountability and justice for victims and survivors of violence every day of the year.” The office runs a victim/witness services initiative and employs a peer crisis response team called CARES.
Antiviolence stakeholders across the city commemorated the day of remembrance throughout the weekend.
At Temple University Sunday, the school’s Police Association hosted a “Stop the Violence” peace walk from Bright Hope Baptist Church through Temple’s campus. Among the 60-some people in attendance was Denise Singleton, whose son Kyle Singleton was killed on the 1800 block of North 28th Street in Brewerytown on May 11th. He was29.
“Kyle was a good guy. Kyle was not a bad guy. Kyle wasn’t a street guy,” Singleton said of her son. “He was a family man. We are here to seek justice for my son’s murder.”
An obituary written for Kyle describes him as a fashion-conscious “ball of energy” who worked as a mental health counselor after studying criminal justice for a year at Community College of Philadelphia. He would’ve been 30 on his birthday this past August, and his family rallies monthly to keep the pressure on to find his killer.
“I’m so interested in finding who would want to do this to Kyle because he didn’t bother anyone,” Singleton said. “And I won’t stop until we get justice.”
Former District Attorney Seth Williams, who now runs a job training program for at-risk people and those with criminal records, focused on getting guns off the street and holding violent perpetrators accountable. He touted focused deterrence, a program his office used to try and target people at risk to shoot or be shot.
A few parents of Temple students attended the march, including Andrea Doyle of Chester County, who has a daughter at the North Philadelphia-based university.
“I have a knot in my stomach 24/7,” she said of campus safety. “We’re not just worried about Temple students. … We’re worried about staff but also permanent residents. We’re going to come and go, but we need to help the community while we’re here.”
Sunday’s events came as the city’s gun violence continued to surge. At least eight people, including a 2-year-old boy, were shot in just a few hours between Saturday night and early Sunday morning. Two of those victims died. In the past week, a total of seven people 18 or younger were shot; one of them — an 18-year-old teen — was killed.
Johnson-Speight, who’s been involved in antiviolence work for 20 years, called the rate of the last few years “unheard of.” Part of her mission is a call to action, for everyone. She urged people to get involved through mentoring, letter writing, or reaching out to antiviolence groups like hers and learning about organizational needs.
“The question is, ‘What can I do today to save a life?’ ” she said. “Think of the mothers and fathers that are feeling this kind of pain and know that you wouldn’t want to feel it. I believe that if enough people were doing something, we wouldn’t have the numbers that we have today.”