Mayor Sylvester Turner's podium was set up next to a tire pump outside the Time Rise Mart gas station on the corner of Cullen and Bellfort, the same street corner where a young man was shot and killed not long ago. Behind him were police officers, pastors and the parents of sons they lost to gun violence.
After the city saw a 23 percent rise in murders last year, Turner nearly begged community members to both remain vigilant and — speaking to "others who aren't here," hoping they would get the message — stop hurting one another.
“We're gathered here at the site of one of the city's recent murders to call for an end to bloodshed,” Turner said. “But let me also emphasize, this violence is not limited to the south side. It is not limited to Sunnyside. It is happening in every neighborhood, and I want to make a personal appeal for it to stop.”
Mothers behind him held photos of their sons, many of them wearing shirts embroidered in cursive with the words “Village Of Mothers," a group started by a woman from Fort Bend County named Calandrian Kemp.
“We're coming out to say that we're not going to grieve behind closed doors,” Kemp said. “We're coming out to let the community know that this is real. This is real. This pain is too deep, and it will not let us lay down. I can't lay down.”
Kemp founded the group in 2014, about a year after her son, George, was killed. She got the idea for Village of Mothers after meeting with Trayvon Martin's mother, Sabrina, who had organized a similar group for women to talk openly about their grief. Kemp was suicidal at the time, struggling to find any outlet for her own pain, and she wasn't quite sure she ever would. “But then I remembered, I promised Sabrina that Trayvon's blood was not spilled in vain, because she helped me,” Kemp told the Houston Press. “I told myself I could help other mothers like me, because that pain was too big to keep.”
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Since starting Village of Mothers, Kemp has helped more than 700 moms nationwide who joined the group online. They encourage each other to find purpose in their grief by attending rallies like this one. They celebrate their children's birthdays together even though their children are not there. They visit their children's graves together and try to figure out, “How did you get here?” Kemp said at the podium. “You was just at home — I was just cooking for you…What happened?”
Kemp and other Village of Mothers members said they also weren't there just to talk about pain.
Bertha Hodge said she hopes to send a message to other moms who still have the opportunity to keep their sons close, calling on them to know where their sons are, who they're with, what they're doing to make sure they're not falling into threatening situations. Another mom, Jessica Minix, said she was there with the hope that her son's story could convince even just one person to put down a gun.
"I have to speak for my son because he can't," she said.