A Mother's Prayer Vigil: Love, Loss and Life

At the 2013 ESSENCE Festival, heartbroken mothers who’d lost their sons or daughters to gun violence gathered together for a prayer vigil, many clutching photographs of their children to their chests. They share their stories here in the hopes of reminding other women to hold their children close and join the fight against gun violence. To learn more about what you can do to stop the shooting, see “What Does it Take to Change a Life?,” the final installment of our Guns Down series in the December issue of ESSENCE magazine, on stands now.

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Finding comfort: Women share memories of the children they’ve lost to gun violence in the Ernest M. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans.

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Brenda Quinn lost three sons: Darnell Quinn, 20, on July 11, 1993; Bryon Quinn, 30, on June 30, 2003; and Anthony Quinn, 41, on August 30, 2010.

“Bryon was found shot dead in his car. Darnell was killed after his friends got into a fight with some guys at a bar. With Anthony, God knows he was always getting into trouble but, the last time, after he'd gone to jail, he came home and turned his life around. He had a job and was doing good for himself. One day he asked me for a ride to the store and I said 'no,' because we were fussing. On the way back from the store he was shot. I never got a chance to tell him I was sorry for the argument we were having. I had three sons and all three of them are gone.

"Everybody keeps telling me 'God is not going to put more on you than you can bear.' But after I lost my sons, I turned my back on God. I stopped going to church. I stopped praying. If somebody would talk about God, I used to just walk away. Then, one Sunday morning I was lying in bed listening to a pastor on TV and, it felt like he was talking just to me. That’s when I just got up and went back to church. After that, it was like God lifted me up. I felt strong again.”

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Anne Roberts-Dimes remembers the moment she last saw her son, Danny Joseph, who was shot May 11, 2011. 

“I was with my son 45 minutes prior to his death. We were in my home and, he left my presence for just six minutes to go into the other room. Someone shot through the wall and then he was dead. He left two kids behind and they are not coping well. They were four and five years old at the time and, they are still looking for their father. I would like to see more gun regulation and less of a revolving door in and out of prison for those people who are doing these crimes.”

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Annette Warren Barrow lost her son Darnell Warren, 28, on April 18, 2010. 

“He never gave me any trouble. He was a good kid growing up, a hard-worker and a wonderful father. He owned his own trucking business. Guns seem to keep getting into the hands of the wrong people. Our police department isn’t doing enough. A detective was on the case for a year but nothing happened. All I can do is pray. I have faith that one day, they will catch his killers.”

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Melissa Glover lost her son, Albert “Tilly” Glover, 25, on October 31, 2011.

“Tilly was out in the French Quarter when his friend got into it with another dude who pulled out a gun and shot my son. Tilly was my only child. We looked alike, everybody said so. When he was 12, he had a liver transplant. Someone saved his life at 12 and someone else took it away at 25.”

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Margaret F. Washington lost her daughter, Marguerite LeJoy Washington, an 18-year-old Dillard College freshman, on October 1, 2012. Marguerite was killed after an assailant shot through a window while she was visiting her boyfriend’s home.

“Love your children every day. Hug them and let them know they are valuable. My daughter was an adopted child. I brought her home when she was 3 months old. My son, who is 21 years older than her, said, ‘Mom, I always wanted a baby sister.’ There was so much love in our family. I have great memories. Even now my cell phone is full of pictures that Marguerite put on my phone. I have her with me in my heart and in spirit.”

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Leita Akins has endured the pain of losing a child to gun violence more than once. Her 28-year-old son Duane Atkins was killed on August 20, 2011, and 21-year-old Andrew Atkins III was shot to death on March 28, 1996.

“I miss my boys. Losing them made me quiet. I don’t see how things are going to change with the kind of people who are in the world today. My family is always sad. Duane was killed inside his home, right in front of his three-year-old child. My oldest son, Andrew, was killed in a drive by. All I want to do is find the people who did this.”

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Gwendolyn Nora lost her son Stephen Anderson, 46, on February 25, 2013.

“Stephen was a peaceful person. Anything anybody asked him to do he was willing to do; cut their grass, go to the store, plant flowers, just anything. All the people that came into Steve’s life loved him because he was a happy, jolly person. He had his ways, don’t get me wrong, but we all go our ways at times. Stephen was shot near his cousin’s house. He was shot 14 times. He was my third-born son. My first son was shot to death in 1989.”

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Gladys Graham lost her son Roland Daniel Johnson on December 2, 2011. The 42-year-old left behind a wife and three sons. Roland was investigating the murder of his stepson when he was killed. 

“My son was always joking around and, maybe, that was one of his downfalls. He took everyone as a friend. A stranger didn’t mean anything to him. My grandson was killed on June 2011 and, you know, the streets talk. Someone told Roland who was involved in my grandson’s murder and he started to look into it. Roland was ambushed in the park and shot numerous times as a result. I grieve, I cry and I hurt, but I look at his picture every day and say, 'Hey Roland!' I’ve learned that as long as I keep this hatred in my heart, I will never begin to heal.'”

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Gina Cannon-Jones lost her son, Leslie Cannon, 18, on September 20, 2008. Leslie was caught in the crossfire when a gunfight broke out at a funeral of one of his friends.

“Leslie was so small when he was born. He only weighed four pounds. We would put him to sleep in a dresser drawer, that’s how little he was. He had been going to college in Atlanta for architecture. He had a scholarship and just came home to visit when he was killed. He was my firstborn, the first grandchild, the first great-grandchild. We all enjoyed his arrival and, we never thought we would lose him.”

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Dorothy Johnson White lost her son, Calvin Johnson, on June 25, 2009. He was 23 years old.

“People ask me how can you thank God after losing your child. But I feel like He spared my other son, who was with Calvin when Calvin was murdered. Even though I have my two other children, and 12 grandkids, at one time I thought I would just give up on life. My daughter said to me one day, 'What about us? We still need you.' It was my children, my husband, my church bond and by the grace of God that I made it through. I knew God would never leave me. I still cry my tears. I still hurt and I still get angry, but I came back.”

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Diane Hosey lost her lost her eldest son, Nicholas Hosey, on October 5, 2011. The 29-year-old died over a dispute about a cell phone.

“The police are doing their best, but they can’t be everywhere. The person who murdered my son went to jail because people in the community stood up and spoke out and that felt good. If that happened more often, the police could put away more people and get them off our streets.”

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Della Waites visits her eldest son's Darell Carter’s gravesite every Christmas. He died at age 31, on September 7, 2010.

“People should think before taking a life. A person’s life is important. When that person is killed, you don’t just hurt them. You also hurt their family; we are the ones who suffer the most. It helps for me is to talk about my son, but sometimes I just have to cry out and release my pain.”

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Cutine Pittman lost her 18-year-old grandson Jaquan Pittman on July 10, 2012. Pittman believed that joining the Air Force would lead Jaquan to become a better man. Unfortunately, he never got the chance.

“My grandson was murdered the day before he was to be sworn into the Air Force. We have to stop the violence in this city. A lot of people know what’s going on and refuse to talk. But people need to realize that eventually something like this might happen to you. I have two daughters and, they are so distraught after losing their brother. They tell me I’m so strong, but I’m not. I have Christ and he’s the one who is keeping me going. I still pray that one day someone will come forward with information about his murder.”

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Sandra Watlington lost her son, Cyril Watlington, on February 15, 2010. Cyril, 21, was struck by a stray bullet while sitting in his car.

“My son was my best friend. When you saw me, you saw him. We even worked together. I was in shipping and, he was in production and every day at five o’clock he would come by and give me a hug and say he loved me and I would joke with him and say back, ‘I ain’t got no money.’ That was just our little routine. We were always joking around like that. On the morning he was killed, I remember laughing and talking with my son at the kitchen table. We had a lot of fun. Now, some days I think I’m fine and other days I’m not. Honestly, nobody should have to go through this.”

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Sonia Miller lost her 19-year-old son, Bertrand Dezard, on March 9, 2013. He was shot while visiting his girlfriend.

“Bertrand was a freshman at Xavier College on a four-year scholarship studying sports medicine. He was an all-star high school basketball player. He was so helpful and respectful and, sports was his life. I never had any problems with him. Never got called into his school or any of that. I miss him to death. They caught the men who killed my son, but there are people who don’t have that closure. It’s like living with a knot in your throat you can never swallow.”

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Willie J. Crain lost her youngest son, David James Crain, on August 12, 2012. 

“My child was not the best child. He smoked those funny cigarettes but he still didn’t deserve to die. I raised him in the church. He was baptized and, after a certain age, he just got away from that. But, as mothers, we have to support our child no matter what. Call them every day and always end the conversation with 'I love you.'  As Black people, we don’t say that enough to one another. We need to show more love and concern for our kids.”

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Photos of children killed too soon adorn the Wall of Remembrance.