June is Gun Violence Awareness Month

Interviewing the Moms of Moms Bonded by Grief


Rick Weiss

6/19/20245 min read

On June 8th, at the invitation of Philly Moms Demand Action and Moms Bonded by Grief, I visited the (second) groundbreaking for the Moms’ Botanical Garden of Healing. It was a bright, clear blue, beautiful but windy day. The garden is, at this point, a well-maintained but vacant, grassy field nearly a full block in a pleasant, mixed-use section of West Philly. It is overlooked by nice 3 story rows and semi-detached homes. The Moms have big plans for their garden.

They envision it as a place of healing and growth where mothers can come to reflect. They plan to enclose part of the lot at 51st and Woodland, do lots more planting with memorial ribbons for each person lost from 2017 on. Terrez McCleary, founder of Moms Bonded by Grief, also envisions the potential learning experience and is reaching out to local schools to bring students to the garden to dramatize the impact of gun violence on our community.

Moms Bonded by Grief is a special organization. All the members of that club are bonded by the loss of one or more children to gun violence. They literally speak for young people who can’t speak for themselves anymore.

One of the Moms I interviewed had lost her daughter in the 90’s. Another had lost her child in May. I can’t imagine how any of them had the courage to sit and talk with me. But they did. They introduced themselves and their murdered child, described the day, what hearing or seeing the loss of a loved one was like, what was special about the murdered child and what they wanted the world to know. One Mom said that when a child is murdered, the scales fall away from your eyes. Your view of life changes forever. They all speak of the horror of a loss they were all too aware of before it happened. They worked hard to keep their children from it. And yet they couldn’t. They are all the fiercest advocates for gun law reform that you’ll ever meet.

This is Terrez. She lost a daughter and a nephew. Terrez found strength and purpose in starting the support group as a space where family of slain children “can find solace, be vulnerable, let their guard down, cry and be supported” in their efforts to “transition and grow.” (I will post interview excerpts on our projects page this coming week.)

Philadelphia City Council President Kenyatta Johnson was also there honoring the Moms and sharing his personal loss of a cousin to gun violence. He spoke of the need for adults to not only band together to support each other but also for the need to teach violence mitigation strategies. He sees a compelling urgency to recognize and better support the individuals and communities rocked by gun violence.

Per capita, Philadelphia is one of the most dangerous cities in this country when it comes to gun violence. It is only outpaced by Chicago.

Philadelphia has far fewer homes with firearms and fewer gun dealers than what its population would predict. And yet, Philadelphia still experiences a higher-than-expected rate of violence.

During the school year the city was rocked by three or four drivebys near schools or SEPTA transit stops that killed several young people, injured dozens more and sent bystanders fleeing in terror. New Philadelphia mayor, Cherelle Parker just signed a law outlawing bump stocks in Philadelphia after the Supreme Court struck down a Trump-era executive order that banned them. Republican lawmakers in the US Senate rejected a bump stock ban and called it “show-boating.” Bump stocks, are also allowed under Pennsylvania state law, where the state House narrowly defeated a bill to ban them in May. It gives you an idea of what we’re up against.

They’re ALL my kids.

This is my second encounter with a survivor community. Talking with survivors, particularly those who’ve lost somebody close, changes you. It’s not abstract or academic anymore. You look into the face of a Mom and see beneath the statistics. It becomes personal. “The scales fall from your eyes.”

Many years ago, I was on the playground, minding a group of boys at my son’s Center City school. The sun had gone down. Their mom was running late. When she finally pulled up and her boys piled in, she apologized and thanked me profusely for “watching her kids.” “They’re all my kids,” I responded.

After talking with the Philly Moms, looking in their eyes, hearing them speak about their precious children, listening to how they push through their crushing grief, pick up the broken pieces, reconstituting the preciousness of lives too often ignored in the national discussion of gun violence, how many of us are willing to say “They’re all my kids. Right?”

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