Many mothers, one heart

The audience was hushed in suspense; the dancer danced as the music would dip and crescendo with the emotions entwined with the events revealed as the agonizing stories of two mothers unfolded.

They were heart-broken mothers; one whose son was killed. Another whose son had killed.

Each recounted the nights when they received the dreaded phone calls no parent wants to get. One mother, Mary, received phone calls from friends and relatives telling her that her son had been shot and killed; the other mother, Tammy, relived the phone call from her son telling her that he had shot and killed someone.

Their truth-telling was spoken through the voices of two readers. That night in Minneapolis, while attending a restorative justice conference, I was one of the readers.

In reality, I am a lifelong resident, community activist and human service worker in Dorchester. I am the mother of three beautiful children; two who had the chance to grow up and become wonderful adults and one whose life was stolen from him at the age of 19.

I am a survivor of a homicide victim. In reality Mary's story more reflects my own than Tammy's does. Yet, it was Tammy's story that I read that night.

As I did, my voice was quivering, my heart was pounding, my soul was aching with a level of intensity that was ironically close to my own reactions the night my oldest son came to tell me that my youngest son Joel had been stabbed and killed.

I could feel Tammy's pain, her confusion, her disbelief. I knew it. I knew it from a different perspective, but I knew it.

When my son Joel was killed, I wondered almost immediately about what it must be like to be the mother of someone who has killed. In some ways, that seemed harder to me than being the mother of someone who was killed. Somewhere in my mind, heart and soul I was registering the fact that every act of murder, every act of violence tears up families and the community they live in.

As someone who had lived in the Dorchester community for over 50 years and worked in it for over 40 years, I had always known that. However, that awful night of Jan. 31, 2001, when my son "Jo-Jo" was killed, I began to know it in a deeper, more personal way. After a few weeks passed and there were four arrests made in my son's murder, I was struck by the waste of five young people's lives and by the devastation of our five families.

When I read Tammy's story, I more than knew it. I "felt" it in a visceral way. I came to understand that I was "supposed" to read that story that night to prepare me for work I was about to do.

I work at the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute. Several years ago we put out a call to families in the community who had been affected by the violence to come to a series of healing circles. We thought we were going to have other survivors come to these circles and in fact they did. They were not the only ones who came, however.

There were families of young people whose wounds had left them alive but with chronic health and mobility disabilities; families of young people who had been incarcerated or deported because they had taken their part in harming, hurting, even killing others in our communities.

The circles were full of intense emotions. We all learned that everyone in those circles, no matter what circumstances brought them there, was suffering immensely. We learned that even though our own pain and our own losses were huge, the scope of the problem was even bigger. The ripples of the aftermath were even more widespread than we had at first begun to imagine.

There are no sides in this circle. There are only people; people who shop in the same stores, who walk the same streets, whose youngsters go to school together, who worship at the same places of worship, who may work in the same place. People who live in the same community.

For some time now, we at the Peace Institute have dreamed of bringing together mothers whose children are incarcerated and mothers whose children have been murdered. The time is now. Too many of our children are in graves or jail cells.

We are inviting all mothers who have in whatever way been affected by violence to join us in healing ourselves and community. We invite you to come and be part of M'MOM (Massachusetts Mothers on the Move). Join us as we seek and seed healing through support circles guided by the Seven Principles of Peace: love, unity, faith, hope, courage, justice and forgiveness.

The Louis D. Brown Peace Institute will host M'MOM sessions on Thursdays, beginning Jan. 17, from 6 to 8 p.m. The office is located at 1452 Dorchester Ave., second floor, Fields Corner. For more information, contact Janet Connors at 617-825-1917 or Or Rachel Fazzino at