North Central: Mothers Come Together to Combat Violence

A local artist is lending out a helping hand to Mother's In Charge members by painting free portraits of their children.

The pain of losing a child is every parent’s worst nightmare particularly when senseless violence is the culprit. Eight of the 331 murders in Philadelphia during 2012 struck children ages zero-17, with another 22 homicides ravishing the 18-24 age group according to statistics compiled by the Philadelphia Police Department.

A local artist is lending out a helping hand to Mother's In Charge members by painting free portraits of their children.
A local artist is extending a helping hand to Mother’s In Charge members by painting free portraits of their slain children.

Mother’s In Charge, a grassroots organization located in North Central Philadelphia, is working to not only prevent deadly violence but to help those whose worse nightmare is their daily reality.

On the first Friday in March, Mothers In Charge held its reoccurring event known as “The Chat and Chew.” This event focuses on bringing together the members of the organization to discuss upcoming events and volunteer opportunities. During this event participants also share support and stories of loved ones that have been tragically lost.

After a few ice-breaker games, old and new members review different ways of expanding the knowledge of this organization’s mission to educate and prevent future acts of violence, both in their community and throughout the country. Mother’s In Charge has six chapters across America from Brooklyn to Los Angeles.

Ruth Donnelly, one of the founding members of Mother’s In Charge, discussed how this program has changed her life for the better after the loss of her son, Justin Donnelly, in 2001.

“The thing I really like about the whole program is the grief support because I’ve gone through other grief support [programs] and I didn’t feel like I was getting anything out of that. I mean, it was good to go but when a person is murdered, it’s a different kind of grief,” Donnelly said.

Along with the “Chat and Chew,” Mother’s In Charge offers a number of different programs such as individual and group grief support meetings that are held every second and fourth Thursday.

Members gather around the upcoming events flyer at the meeting.
Members reviewed an upcoming events flyer during the meeting.

The organization also has its own mentoring program, known as 1,000 Women for 1,000 Girls. This program pairs girls between the ages of 7-to-17 with women mentors who encourage and guide them into becoming strong, young adults.

Mother’s In Charge also offers a number of prevention programs such as Heal a Woman, Heal a Nation.

This is part of Thinking for Change, a cognitive behavioral change program that assists men, women and juvenile offenders develop their social and problem solving skills. Mothers In Charge describes that the single principle guiding Thinking for a Change is that thinking controls actions. They contribute by training staff to facilitate the program, which is broken down into 22 small group lessons. With the aid of Mother’s In Charge, Thinking for a Change now has more than 300 trainers in 30 agencies.

“It is unbelievable how much Mother’s In Charge has taken off,” Donnelly said. “This started out as just a few moms in a room smaller than what we use as a kitchen now. [Now] we have this great office on Broad Street and have reached out to so many women. We know we are making a difference and it is all thanks to Dorothy.” The Mother’s In Charge office is located in Suite 229, 1415 N. Broad St. near Temple University’s main campus.

Dorothy Johnson–Speight, founder and executive director, began the Mothers In Charge program after her only son, Khaaliq, was murdered in 2001.

The same man coincidentally murdered the sons of both Johnson–Speight and Donnelly, within just a few blocks of one another.

Along with a couple of other mothers, Johnson–Speight and Donnelly came together to start Mothers In Charge as a way to prevent violence through support, education and proactive involvement amongst themselves and within their community.

“Though many years have passed, many of the members of Mothers In Charge are still grieving the loss of their child,” Johnson–Speight said. “We speak for our loved ones because they speak no more.”

In late February, Johnson–Speight took the anti-violence message of Mothers In Charge to a national level. During a visit to Washington D.C., Johnson–Speight was able to share her thoughts on gun violence with First Lady, Michelle Obama. The meeting was part of a countrywide campaign known as “Demand a Plan to End Gun Violence”. Other supporters, including survivors of the Newtown, Connecticut shooting this past December, were in attendance.

“Mrs. Obama stood in line for hours greeting all of the guests,” Johnson–Speight said. “It was an honor to be able to share our message with her, as well as so many others who have also been affected by gun violence.”

In part of the growth process of Mothers In Charge, the organization has reached out through social media like Facebook and Twitter to continue spreading their message to larger audiences.

Doris Saunders, Community Liaison at Mothers In Charge, manages all social media content, along with the organization’s website. Saunders became a member after her daughter, Chakia, was killed in 2005.

“Our name is out there but we need to keep it going,” Saunders said. “Just like in any other organization, we try to get our name out there on social media as much as we can. Our goal is to reach as many mothers as possible.”

Through programs like the “Chat and Chew”, 1,000 Women for 1,000 Girls and Heal a Woman, Heal a Nation, this group has helped mothers and other victims of violence, work through their grief to build a supportive community which has successfully grown since its beginning ten years ago.

An ice-breaker game produces a laughter amongst the group during the "Chat & Chew" event.
During the “Chat and Chew” event, an ice-breaker game produced  cheerful laughter among program participants.

Darnetta Green-Mason, another member and volunteer, whose son was taken from her in a senseless act of violence, said that Mothers In Charge gives her hope.

“Mothers In Charge is like a family,” said Mason. “We have all had to go through such similar things. It gave me a place to grieve when I had none.”

For more information on this organization, volunteer opportunities and other programs they are involved with, visit their website at www.mothersincharge.org.