Survivors of Homicide Victims Awareness Month is underway!
Monday morning's Opening Ceremony of the 16th Annual Awareness Month was a powerful expression of our courage and conviction as survivors of homicide victims.
"Today marks the re-birth of a movement," Peace Institute Program Coordinator and survivor Alexandra Chéry remarked. "Survivors are leading the way on policy initiatives that impact all of our families. Though we are grieving, we are committed to healing ourselves and working with our allies to create communities where all families are treated with love, dignity and compassion."
We were honored to have Senator Linda Dorcena Forry host the Opening Ceremony and read the proclamation issued in by Governor Charlie Baker acknowledging November 20 - December 20 as Survivors of Homicide Victims Awareness Month.
"The incredible advocacy work from survivors of homicide informs the policy decisions we make in the legislature but also brings awareness to a critical issue concerning public health. It is essential that we provide the resources necessary for survivors, those personally affected or who may have witnessed these acts of violence in our neighborhoods," Senator Forry shared with us.
Attorney General Maura Healey spoke about the ongoing need to treat all survivors of homicide victims with dignity and compassion and ensure families get the resources they need to lay their loved one to rest with dignity. We appreciate the Attorney General's commitment to serving survivors equitably and effectively.
Executive Director of the Massachusetts Office for Victim Assistance Liam Lowney gave a powerful and personal testimony about his own experience as a sibling survivor. Liam's sister Shannon was murdered in 1994.
Liam said that our loss is not defined by the motive behind our loved one's death, but rather by our memories of their life. Regardless of the circumstances, survivors of homicide victims deserve support and care.
A highlight of the Opening Ceremony was the awards presentation to survivors for their exemplary advocacy.
Gregory Gibson received the Inform Award for persistently educating the public and policymakers about the impact of homicide on families and complex issues facing the survivor community. Mr. Gibson's son Galen was killed in a school shooting at Simon's Rock College in 1992. This prompted Greg to write Gone Boy, a critically acclaimed investigation into his son's murder and gun violence in America. A long time gun sense advocate, he joined Everytown for Gun Safety in 2014 as an outreach volunteer for Everytown's National Survivor Network. Greg plays an active role as a father in the survivors' movement that has been led by women.
Carla Sheffield received the Influence Award for courageously changing the conversation about murder victims to include people who are killed by police. Ms. Sheffield's son Burrell Ramsey-White was killed by a police officer in 2012. Since then, Ms. Sheffield has founded Better Opportunities, Inc. to advocate for mandated licensing of police officers.
Carla shared, "When I lost my son, it was devastating for me and my family because my son was killed by the very people who were supposed to protect him. The aftermath was the hardest because no one would talk to me or provide answers to my questions. As co-founder of Better Opportunities, I made it my mission as Burrell's mom to make that path less complicated for other families."
Mary Franklin was given the Impact Award in honor of her tireless leadership on the issue of unsolved homicide. Ms. Franklin's husband Melvin was killed in 1996 and his murder remains unsolved. Ms. Franklin founded the Women Survivors of Homicide Victim Movement to bring awareness to the overwhelming numbers of unsolved murders and find unique ways to unify families, law enforcement, and politicians to work together on solutions to combat this crisis. Ms. Franklin founded "Annual Unsolved Homicides Awareness Day" recognized by the City of Boston and helped to establish the Boston Police Survivor's Room.
Heather and Jerry Mullin also received the Impact Award. Mr. and Mrs. Mullin's six year old daughter Joanna was murdered in 2007. Since Joanna's death, the Mullins have been working to help their children learn the coping skills they need to survive the loss of their sister. Throughout the process, Heather and Jerry have become acutely aware of how tragic loss or unexpected change can disrupt the lives of children and have longstanding impact. This led Heather and Jerry to establish Joanna's Place, a center that provides free counseling and support groups for grieving children and families.
The Opening Ceremony was attended by elected officials, survivors, providers, and our partners in peacemaking. Together we celebrated survivors' capacity to transform pain and anger into power an action and acknowledged our shared responsibility to create and sustain more peaceful communities.
Survivors of Homicide Victims Awareness Month events continue until December 20. Please see below for the full calendar.