'The First Thing I Think About On Mother's Day:' 8 Moms Affected By Gun Violence Share Their Hopes For Real Gun Reform In America
On Mother's Day, ESSENCE speaks with eight mothers whose children have been killed or injured by gun violence. Today, we lift up their stories as they share their hopes for comprehensive gun reform in America.
Today will be my fourth Mother’s Day without my son, Jordan.
On November 23, 2012, my only child was shot and killed over a dispute about loud music at a Jacksonville gas station. His shooter was White, and seventeen-year-old Jordan was Black. The shooter swore he saw a gun in the car, but of course, Jordan and his friends were unarmed.
Gun violence affects everyone — 93 Americans are shot and killed every day and hundreds more are injured. But it’s communities of color that experience the brunt of gun violence trauma.
Not a day goes by that I don’t miss my son, but on Mother’s Day, I bury my face in his old polos and try to remember the feel of the hugs I’ll never again receive. I’ll try to turn that mournful sadness into resolve once again.
Too many families bear the burden of spending holidays childless after a son or daughter has been taken by gun violence. By demanding solutions from our lawmakers and asking more from our communities, we can save lives.
– Lucy McBath
Mothers from all walks of life give testimony on how gun violence has affected their families. Here, we lift the names of those they lost as they share their experiences. These are their stories. This is their heartbreak. And these are the hopes they have for the future of this country and the legacy of their children.
EDITORS NOTE: Responses have been shortened for clarity.
Cleo Pendleton and Hadiya Pendleton
“On Mother’s Day I think about how much I miss Hadiya. I think about how happy I used to be and how far I had dreamed into my daughter’s future before she was murdered on January 29, 2013. I want the world to know that Hadiya, like SO MANY other gun violence victims, did not deserve to die this way. She had her basic Human Right to life snatched from her because of someone else’s lack of direction and self-worth. My daughter deserves justice for having her life taken and her Dad, Brother and I are waiting for it. The first thing I want everyone to know is that on June 2, Hadiya’s birthday, we now honor her by taking part in Wear Orange and National Gun Violence Awareness Day. That simple action has turned into a movement – last year nearly 225,000 Americans participated in Wear Orange events and actions. We need to get louder and demand common sense solutions that can save lives. Everyone needs to understand that violence affects not only the victim, but the victim’s family for generations. This is lasting trauma. Don’t be afraid to voice your opinion or demand more of our lawmakers. But we also need to hold ourselves accountable: blocks, community, outreach, churches. The answer is LOVE and accountability.”
Cleo Pendleton and daughter Hadiya Pendleton. Hadiya, 15, was killed by a stray bullet in Chicago while walking home from school.
Deborah Nelson and daughter Monique Roxanne Nelson
“[On Mother’s Day] my mind sadly drifts to my baby daughter, Monique Roxanne Nelson, who paid the ultimate sacrifice on December 14, 2010, at the young age of thirty to save her two-year-old son’s life in a lonely parking lot in Sacramento, California. While having her family Christmas portraits taken, rival gangs had a shoot-out in the public parking lot where she was strapping her toddler son into his car seat. Instinctively, she covered her son’s body with her own, saving his life, but losing her own. I think of how proud her grandmother would have been of her for this courageous act of love. And I think how our lives will never be the same without Monique. I want the world to know that Monique Roxanne Nelson lived, was a valued family member and friend with extraordinary love in her heart and soul; especially for her son, Jayden. She is not just another forgotten statistic to gun violence, but she was a God-fearing, compassionate, loyal, humorous young mother who is dearly missed. She made the lives of those who loved and knew her exponentially richer. Monique was the center of our joy! ‘The Last Portrait: A Psalm For Monique’ is a memoir that is a tribute to my courageous daughter to keep her memory alive and to celebrate the fact that she indeed lived. Our family refuses to let one single bullet diminish the light of such a shining star in our life. America must admit that there is a problem and become better informed of the devastating effects of gun violence. Although we may be the richest nation, Americans are 25 times more likely to become victims of gun violence than residents of comparably wealthy nations. Gun violence disproportionately impacts communities of color. Nationwide, a Black man is 14 times more likely to be shot than a White non-Hispanic man. America must break from that false sense of security that gun violence only happens to others. If it can happen to a law-abiding family like mine; it can happen to anyone.”
Deborah Nelson and daughter Monique Roxanne Nelson. Monique (pictured here) was killed protecting her toddler son during a gang shoot-out at a strip mall in Sacramento, CA on December 14, 2010.
Stephanie Stone and son Paul.
“The first thing I think about on Mother’s Day is the fact my son, Paul, will not be the first person to wish me a ‘Happy Mother’s Day’ and I won’t receive a makeshift card made from construction paper. I miss those moments, I miss those times. I want the world to know my Paul was a phenomenal kid. He had a giving spirit, he was smart, he was funny, he was athletic and he was a leader. Paul made such an impact on his friends and since his death, they have continued to honor him in their own special way. Most of them dedicated their first year of college to Paul, because he will never get that privileged opportunity. Gun violence has become rampant and no one is unscathed. Gun violence can affect anyone, any place, and at any time. We as Americans can take several steps to reduce gun violence in effort to save lives. We need a background check on every gun sale, we need to close the loopholes that allow dangerous people to buy guns online and at gun shows and pawn shops. We need to speak with children and teenagers about the dangers of playing with guns. We need to speak to gun owners about the proper storage of their firearms, to reduce the chance of unintentional shootings, firearms being stolen from their home and suicides by children and teenagers. There are numerous ways we can prevent and reduce gun violence; but we must work together.”
Stephanie Stone and son Paul. Paul, 14, was murdered on December 19, 2012 as a result of a plotted home invasion.
DeAndra Yates and her son, DeAndre
“When I think about Mother’s Day, I think about how privileged I am and what an honor it is to be a Mom, to be loved unconditionally by two innocent young men who didn’t ask to be in this world, but by my choice and God’s design, they were gifted to me. But Mother’s Day is bittersweet. I wish my son, Dre, could hug me, I wish he could say he loves me, but I do still have him, for that I am grateful. I want the world to know that my son Dre wasn’t perfect, but he was just right for me. His smile lights up a room, and his laughter is contagious. In spite of his mental and physical deficits in his life after the shooting, he is touching the world. Bringing an end to gun violence has so many layers. Personally my belief is if we project love from one to another, it could cause a major shift in our thinking and our interactions with one another. But we must first love ourselves enough to know just how valuable our lives are. When we truly began to love ourselves, we show love, and in showing love we curb hate, we curb low self esteem, we curb dysfunctional behaviors, and in the end we can curb violence.”
DeAndra Yates and her son, DeAndre. DeAndre was injured by a stray bullet while attending a birthday party in Indianapolis.
Nicole Gardner and daughter Ronique Gardner-Williams
“The first thing that I think about on Mother’s Day is the fact that four beautiful children and a host of other children depend on me, look up to me, and call me ‘Ma.’ I want the world to know that Ronique was very sweet and a loving soul. She appreciated the essence of family togetherness and was loyal to her siblings. She never skipped a day without telling her friends and family that she loved us. She loved all animals, especially dogs. She was inspired to open her own dog shelter one day, and after graduating from High School she went to College to become a Veterinarian. She was in her sophomore year when she was senselessly murdered. I would like for America to know that gun violence affects all of us as a society because our children are the future of America, and we are losing our future everyday. I also want to see stronger gun laws that make it harder for criminals to get their hands on guns so easily. Finally, I want Americans to pay more attention to keeping guns out of the hands of people with dangerous mental illnesses.”
Nicole Gardner and daughter Ronique Gardner-Williams. Ronique was shot and killed in California on December 3, 2015 while riding on the passenger seat of her boyfriend’s car.
Julvonnia McDowell and her son JaJuan McDowell.
“This will be the second Mother’s Day I will not be able to share with my baby. The first word that comes to mind is unfair, as mothers around the world wake up to their child or children saying ‘Happy Mother’s Day.’ JaJuan was always the first to tell me Happy Birthday, Happy Mother’s Day, Merry Christmas, etc. He would make sure that he beat his dad and older brother to the mark. I would laugh because he would set his alarm clock after he asked what time we were getting up. He did this just so that he could say it first. Now as I think about Sunday, my heart hurts and tears sometimes come without warning. I never imagined being in this space. I never imagined this emotional, physical or mental pain. JaJuan was a loving 14 year-old who had a future brighter and bigger than his smile. He would often say that he wanted to be an architect or veterinarian. He was very creative and loved to draw. He was the epitome of selflessness and always put others before himself. JaJuan loved the Lord, his family and friends. He wasn’t afraid to talk about his love for God. Often, I look in the mirror and I see how much he resembled me. I have nothing but good memories and even in his physical absence, he will forever be imprinted and stamped in my heart. Gun violence is plaguing our communities and leaving mothers like myself empty, but still hopeful. JaJuan’s life was taken at the age of 14 by a preventable gun incident. There are so many families and communities being affected by gun violence and there will never be just one solution. The more we ignore the problem, more it grows. We all need to get involved and help save lives. We need to require a background check for all gun sales and keep guns out of dangerous hands. We know there is a deadly relationship between guns and violence against women – we should urge our elected leaders to pass common-sense gun laws to keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers. I am not against the Second Amendment, but if you are a gun owner, please do your due diligence and Be SMART. Our tears matter and we will continue on this fight to end gun violence and say Not One More.”
Julvonnia McDowell and her son JaJuan McDowell. Jujuan, 14, was accidentally shot and killed by another teen playing with a gun on April 7, 2016 while visiting family in Savannah for spring break.
Myra Latimer and her son, Steven Latimer.
“On October 4, 1987 I gave birth to my first son, Steven Latimer. He was a true blessing. Although I was a young mother, I knew it was going to be my job to take care of him and help to mold him into the young man he was intended to be. Steven was a bright young man with a great heart. He was very charismatic, a good communicator and he had a smile that could light up a room. Steven liked to play basketball and video games. He enjoyed music and loved to draw. Steven also enjoyed spending time with his family and friends, but he loved spending time with his daughter, Nevaeh, most of all. Steven was a good person, never one to look for or start trouble. On October 2, 2011, just two day before his 24th birthday, every parent’s worst nightmare became my reality. In the early morning hours, I was awakened by frantic ringing of my doorbell. I opened the door to find my friend standing there telling me I needed to get to the hospital – there had been a shooting and they couldn’t find Steven. I arrived at the hospital, where I was told that my son had been shot and that his injuries were fatal. My mind went completely blank and my world was changed forever. America needs to have stronger gun laws. I’m not sure that this alone will make the difference, but it’s a start. We as a people need to learn to find other ways to resolve conflicts without resorting to violence. It’s the responsibility of US ALL to bring about the change needed to end gun, police, vigilante, and domestic violence. It will not be accomplished as long as we as American’s stay divided.”
Myra Latimer and her son, Steven Latimer. Steven was shot and killed in a random act of violence on October 2, 2011, just two days before his 24th birthday.
Mary Long and son Eric Edwin Williams
“[On Mother’s Day] I think about Eric’s cards, kisses and hugs. He always picked out the best Mother’s Day cards ever. I want the world to know that Eric had a super-huge heart. Anybody who had a problem, he thought he could help them solve it. He would come home with a sad story and ask me if we could help. There are several steps we can take in this country to end gun violence on every level of government. We need representatives in Congress to pass common-sense gun laws. In Chicago, gun violence is notorious. There is a tremendous amount of unequal opportunities in our education system, jobs, housing, and justice system. Black and brown people are disproportionately under-educated, in prison, poor, and murdered. We have to work together to improve the situation in our communities. When it comes to guns, there are so many common-sense solutions that could help, like making sure every gun sale includes a background check. We have to demand solutions from our legislators and work in our communities too.”
Mary Long and son Eric Edwin Williams. Mary’s only child was killed in an act of gun violence in Chicago on March 12, 2012.