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

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Life after homicide, Part 2: "She's gonna help you get through it"

Part 2
(See: Life after homicide, Part 1: Adrift in a churning tide

Just over a year later, Rose Holman still says it's hard to believe her son is gone. Lewis was 21. He was killed in daylight, while riding in a car near Mills College.

"I know it, but then I don't," says Holman. "I still feel like we have had one of our arguments, a falling out. But that sooner or later we will meet up, at a family gathering or something, and we will sit down to talk and then we will be past it and move on."

Sooner or later, maybe much later, it will hit her, though, that there will be no chance to reconcile with her son, or to watch him become the man she hoped he would be. And then all the grief will come tumbling down on top of her again.

That's what the killing does to survivors. More than 170 killings in 2012 and 2013 in Oakland have left hundreds of family members in our community, mothers, fathers, children, sisters and brothers, crushed under the weight of their grief. Over 800 victims since 2006 means thousands of survivors, thousands of Oaklanders hoping something or someone will come along and find them and pull them out from under the rubble of their lives.

For many, that someone is Marilyn Washington Harris a kind-of one woman search party. (See: Miss Marilyn.)That something is the Khadafy Washington Foundation for Non-Violence, the organization Harris founded in the name of her son, killed in Oakland in 2000. Harris is an emergency responder. In some ways she is not unlike a police officer or firefighter or paramedic: where others might run away, she steps into the most tense, fraught, sometimes still dangerous situations to bring safety and healing to survivors, to protect them from further harm, neglect and exploitation in their sudden grief.

"A woman at work told me I should talk to her," says Holman. "She said, 'She's gonna help you get through it.' I didn't know what she meant at the time."

At first, Holman said she resented this woman who was stepping into her life at the worst possible time, telling her what needed to be done, what business had to be attended to. Because there are many things to do when you are a survivor of a homicide victim, many people to deal with: police, coroners, funeral directors, city clerks. Suddenly there is much business to attend to, just as your state of mind has been shattered.

Soon, says Homan, her feelings about Harris changed.

"Because she showed me that love," says Holman. "She said, 'I understand where you're coming from, and you can't do it alone.' She has helped me understand a lot of things."

Rose is now a volunteer with the Khadafy Washington Foundation. And the Foundation has found a gem, a self-professed lover of paper work.

"I love organization," says Holman. "Having things together when people need them, that's just who I am." Now, on a daily basis, she sees Harris working with families, doing for them what she did for Homan in her time of need.

"What I love most about her is she'll let you know the consequences. She says, 'If you are a responsible adult like you say you are, you need to consider this.' She will take you step by step and show you how to do it. If there's someplace you need to go, she'll get you transportation, or take you. I see her working with these young kids who have lost a father or mother."

Holman says she couldn't understand how one person could do so much.

"I saw her at an event," she says, "and I sat down and talked to her and asked her if she needed help. I wanted to take care of her, because I saw the work she was doing. She needed help with the computer. I'm a computer nut, put me with a computer and I'm happy."

Rose Holman will be at the annual Khadafy Foundation for Non-Violence Mothers & Families Luncheon, Saturday, June 29th, at the Jack London Inn. For more info, go to the event's Facebook page.

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                         Author of Until You Bleed: The Caheri Gutierrez Story
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