Mothers meet to find ways to end the violence

Monalisa Smith of Mothers for Justice and Equality spoke during a workshop on violence Saturday at her office in Roxbury.

Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff

Monalisa Smith of Mothers for Justice and Equality spoke during a workshop on violence Saturday at her office in Roxbury.

Beverly Kelly’s 18-year-old nephew had just dropped off his girlfriend after a movie date when a car rolled down the Dorchester street and someone inside shot him to death. Almost a year has gone by since that March night, and his killer has not been caught. Three months later, his mother was slain, allegedly by her ex-husband. Police found her body stuffed in a closet.

“That was enough for me to say, I am a survivor myself, and I cannot allow anyone else to die,” said Kelly, 50, of Boston. “Many women and men are looking for love in this world in the wrong places. It’s not in violence.”


And so on Saturday morning, Kelly joined a group of about 20 members of Mothers for Justice and Equality, a Roxbury-based organization that aims to end neighborhood violence, to create a plan of action to present to Mayor Martin J. Walsh at a meeting this month.

For more than three hours, they parsed the promises the mayor made in his inaugural speech, arranging them into a report card they plan to use to measure his success in fulfilling them.

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“Justice, to us, is not catching the perpetrator,” said Monalisa Smith, who founded the group in 2010 after her nephew was shot to death in Grove Hall. “Justice is ensuring that we don’t have a repeat of this over and over again.”

This January was Boston’s bloodiest in years, with nine homicides, many of which appeared to be gang related, according to police. Walsh and Police Commissioner William Evans have pledged to work with members of the community to quell the violence.

“The mayor wants to continue to work closely with Mothers for Justice and Equality,” said Walsh spokeswoman Emilee Ellison. “Public safety was the topic of his very first meeting in office, and it’s going to continue to be a major focus for him. He knows what a powerful role mothers will play, and the mayor has said repeatedly he wants everyone at the table when it comes to solutions that will end violence in our neigborhoods.”


The group Saturday morning was composed mostly of women who recently completed leadership training with Mothers for Justice and Equality. Some had lost children or grandchildren to violence; others had young family members whose lives had veered dangerously off track and who had ended up in prison. Many wore purple T-shirts emblazoned with the words “It’s not OK” — a simple statement that ran on billboards the group put up in 2012 showing the smiling faces of young murder victims.

“We live on the streets every day, we’re as grassroots and organic as you can get,” said Smith. “That’s what we bring: the voices of the people being afflicted by the violence.”

The report card the group came up with contained five ranked priorities that members aim to tackle alongside the administration: ensure schools help all children succeed; provide families and communities the help they need; strengthen the economy and create jobs; improve public safety and stop gun violence; and take responsibility for every generation.

Mothers for Justice and Equality does not only plan to grade the mayor — they will also be scoring their own performance as they form neighborhood groups, go to city meetings, reach out to young people and families, and work to help women escape domestic abuse.

But the other important duty that the women said they felt was to tell their stories, and those of their lost children.

When Smith’s nephew was killed, she said, his mother was overwhelmed with hopelessness, and asked Smith to speak on his behalf.

“This is how we started,” said Smith. “I just realized there are so many other young mothers who cannot speak to what has happened to their children.”

‘Justice, to us, is not catching the perpetrator. Justice is ensuring that we don’t have a repeat of this over and over again.’

MONALISA SMITH, founder of Mothers for Justice and Equality, a Roxbury-based organization that aims to end neighborhood violence 
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Several in the group talked about the pain of reading media accounts of their loved one’s deaths that painted them simply as criminals, or got basic facts about their lives wrong. The effect, the women said, was dehumanizing. A major part of their campaign, the women agreed, would be to reach out to the media.

Mothers for Justice and Equality also reaches out to the families of each new homicide victim — delicately, and only after the victim is buried. Founding member and lead organizer Sarah A. Flint, whose 15-year-old son was stabbed to death in 1981 after fighting with another boy about a bicycle, said the group has been in contact with families who have lost loved ones during the past month.

For many group members, the work they do to heal the city heals them as well.

“I was changed 32 years ago,” said Flint. “Being part of this organization helps me to give back.”

Evan Allen can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @evanmallen.
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