Scenes from the aftermath in Oakland:
stories of victims, survivors and healers.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

A plight, and a plea, for Oakland

September 12, 2013 - With 11 homicides in Oakland in August and September, and nearly 70 so far this year, Marilyn Washington Harris, as usual, is too busy helping the families of the killed to raise funds for the non-violence foundation she works through. This year alone, she has comforted and guided the families of 8-year-old Alaysha Carradine, 16-month-old Andrew Jackson, and dozens of lesser-known homicide victims in Oakland. I'm on the board and I can hardly get in touch with her these days. That's okay, I don't want to interrupt her work. All of her energy needs to be spent on her clients, or even occasionally on her own needs.

This is not the way Miss Marilyn would talk. She certainly wouldn't talk about herself. But she will talk about her work and especially the plight of her clients and what they need in the crushing, insane days after a husband or son or daughter or mother has died violently in Oakland. They need attention, love, clarity, guidance, information and a knowing ear. They need protection from exploitation, they need a friend, an advocate. And sometimes they need funds. When these sudden, dire needs remain unmet, things go from bad to worse, and the long dark path back to life, work, family, back to the community, gets far longer and far darker. It might even become endless. The city loses not just the person who was killed, but also it loses the survivors in their lasting grief and unhealed bitterness.

Mural representing 2011 Oakland homicide victim Carlos Nava

Councilmember Libby Schaaf, a native of Oakland, understands the need Miss Marilyn fulfills, and its impact on individuals and the city.
"Walking victims and their families through the complicated, heart-wrenching, expensive nightmare of a gunshot’s aftermath is a special calling – a unique skill. Grown organically out of her own experience as the mother of a homicide victim, Ms. Marilyn has become a guide on this tragic journey.
"Not only a guide down this sad road after violence, Miss Marilyn directs those effected away from further violence. Like other Interrupters, Miss Marilyn is a leader – she literally leads people away from the cycle of revenge, retaliation and more victims."
Marilyn Harris has been helping survivors through the muck for 12 years now, pretty much ever since she became a survivor herself, when her only son, Khadafy Washington, was murdered in Oakland in 2000, and there was no one to help and guide her. Khadafy was 18, and had just graduated from McClymonds High. Today, Marilyn gets some funding from the city, a small amount. She gets help from the venerable Oakland non-profit Youth Alive. But hers is now and always has been a nearly solitary, shoestring operation out of donated space with out-dated equipment in the Acorn. 

If Marilyn is to continue to serve Oakland's living victims of homicide, if she is to continue to serve Oakland, she needs your help. Learn more about Marilyn's work with survivors in the immediate aftermath of a homicide, and her ongoing care for them, at the links below. And please consider donating to the Khadafy Washington Foundation for Non-Violence or, better yet: 

As Councilmember Schaaf says, "We need to fully support Miss Marilyn to show victims the way. We all dream of an Oakland where the Khadafy Foundation is unnecessary. But until we have enough police officers, or jobs, or defuse the gangs, or get illegal guns out of Oakland, or reach our at-risk youth, we must support one who has had success, and who helps lessen the bullet's impact."

I couldn't agree more.

-Jim O'B.

Read more on the work of Marilyn Washington Harris and the Khadafy Washington Foundation for Non-Violence:

No Escape, No Surrender (San Francisco Magazine)
Life After Homicide Part 1 (Oakland Local)
Life After Homicide Part 2 (Oakland Local)
Miss Marilyn (Ice City Almanac)
Anniversary of an End and a Beginning (Ice City Almanac)

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