Families, activists remember victims of gun violence

Remembering lost loved ones
Angel Cradle of Minneapolis joined others as they placed photos of love ones lost , the majority to gun violence, onto a tree of life during the 3rd Annual Remembrance of Life Ceremony at Church of the Ascension in north Minneapolis.
Judy Griesedieck / For MPR News

Stephanie Smith was sitting in a car on Park Avenue in south Minneapolis when two gunmen opened fire. The 21-year-old college student died instantly.

That was three years ago. Since that terrible day, her mother, Pam Smith, wonders how she keeps going.

"I know that I don't want to just live my life in darkness — more darkness than I already do — and I know Stephanie would want that for me and my family," Smith said at a remembrance for victims of gun violence. "So that's just how I keep going, and coming to things like this to remember her and keep her alive."

About 100 friends and family of people killed by gun violence in Minnesota gathered to remember them Sunday at the Church of Ascension in north Minneapolis. Organizers asked attendees to get involved with anti-violence groups or push for tighter gun laws at the State Capitol in the upcoming legislative session.

"Bringing awareness to gun violence definitely makes a difference," Pam Smith said. "Stephanie unfortunately wasn't the only victim — and she won't be the only victim — and it's just going to continue to happen until people get together and do things like this."

Protect Minnesota, which advocates for tighter gun laws, co-sponsored the event.

"What we are saying is let's recognize those people we've loved, let's talk about them, and let's talk about gun violence," said Heather Martens, the group's executive director. "These are all difficult conversations, but as long as we're not having those conversations, we're not making change."

Martens said organizers are trying to reach out across ethnic and cultural boundaries to help people work against violence, from the street to the statehouse.

"We are honoring those we've lost and we want to make sure they did not die in vain," Martens said. "We want to make sure that everyone understands how important it is for us to step up. Don't wait for somebody else to step up."

Mothers united in grief
Lawanda Anderson, right, a young mother who lost a son to gun violence, receives a hug from Princess Titus, who lost a son in the same way. The two shared their grief at the Third Annual Remembrance of Life Ceremony at Church of the Ascension in north Minneapolis.
Judy Griesedieck / For MPR News

Charles Woods-Wilson, who went by the nickname "Chuckie," was 20 when he shot to death in 2007. His uncle, Jerome Matthews, said the family still has good days and bad days.

"We find things like this to be helpful," Matthews said. "We find it to be more of a healing process than anything because you can never get over the loss. The loss is always going to be there. It's just the fact that we tend to learn how to deal with it a little bit better."

Matthews' family has been channeling their sense of loss into activism. His sister, Catrice Champion, is the director of youth programs at MAD DADS of Minneapolis, an anti-violence group that also co-sponsored Sunday's event.

"My sister has become quite the spokesman for families who have lost loved ones, and I kind of follow in her footsteps," Matthews said. "It may not be at the moment, but at any given time, something good will come out of the tragedy."

Although the remembrance had an air of celebration, dozens of photos of the victims provided a reminder of how much each family present had lost.

"Their memory will forever live on," Matthews said. "You want to commemorate their memory by being able to come to events like this, by being able to say, 'Hey, you might be gone but you're not forgotten.'"

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