At Greater Love Tabernacle Church on Sunday, City Councilor Tito Jackson of Boston spoke of the limitations of language.
“When you lose a husband, you’re a widow. When you lose a wife, you’re a widower. When you lose your parents, you are orphaned. What do you call a parent who has lost a child?” he asked a crowd of civic and religious leaders, city residents, and parents of children lost to violence.
“We don’t have a word in the English language for that . . . because it’s not supposed to happen,” Jackson said.
Moments later, Jackson joined with more than 40 men in taking “The Black Man’s Pledge of Responsibility,” an oath to renounce violence and to work to benefit their families and communities.
Composed by women from Boston’s black community, the pledge calls upon men to “reject violence in all its forms as a means of resolving conflict” and encourage others to do so, and to help provide guidance and opportunities to young people.
‘When you lose a husband, you’re a widow. When you lose a wife, you’re a widower. When you lose your parents, you are orphaned. What do you call a parent who has lost a child? We don’t have a word in the English language for that . . . because it’s not supposed to happen.’
The pledge also asks men to look after their physical and emotional health and to build healthy relationships with their children and romantic partners.
It comes as domestic violence receives extra attention in the local black community following the January conviction of former state representative Carlos Henriquez for assaulting a woman who refused him sex, and as city residents call for an end to gun violence after a brutal beginning to 2014.
There were nine shooting deaths in January, more than Boston has seen in several years.
Police have said many of the shootings appeared to be gang-related.
So far there has been only one homicide in February, but it was a shocking death. Nine-year-old Jan Marcos Pena died inside his Mattapan home Feb. 7, allegedly shot by his 14-year-old brother, whose name was not released by police due to his age.
Inside Greater Love Tabernacle on Sunday, Tina Chery told the men present that they need to face their own traumas — their pain, anger, and feelings of inadequacy — and allow themselves to feel the emotions that society teaches them to repress.
“When men publicly cry, the violence will end,” said Chery, who founded the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute to honor her son Louis, 15, who was shot and killed in December 1993.
Rev. Ronald Odom Sr. spoke of the pain of losing his 13-year-old son Steven, killed in Dorchester in 2007 as he walked home from playing basketball with friends.
Odom said that he had planned out his son’s future, through college and beyond.
“I had it all mapped out for him, but not knowing that tragedy would knock on my door and just shatter all my hopes and my dreams for my children,” said Odom, father to three other sons and one daughter.
“But I still have hope. I cannot give up and I will not give up.”
Horace Small, executive director of the Union of Minority Neighborhoods and cofounder of the Committed Brothers Network that organized the pledge effort, said its nine points were changes that women from the city’s black community said they wanted men in their lives to make.
“We didn’t think it was appropriate for us to write it,” Small said in a phone interview.
“We wanted outside ears, outside eyes.”
Small said the pledge is part of an effort to change patterns of behavior but also to combat negative stereotypes of black men in the media and in society.
“What we have to do is remind folks of our basic humanity, of our love for children, our love for family, our love for community,” he said.
Small said that it is relatively easy to get men to sign the pledge in a church. The challenge, he continued, will be taking the pledge into the community, to get men on the street corners, in bars, and in homeless shelters to take a stand against violence.
Men who join the effort, he said, can go on to enact its values in the community.
“We have to train our members so they can be mediators and forces for good on the street, so they can try to mitigate and to stop problems before they start,” Small said.