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Mother’s Day marchers urge peaceful solutions

Feel loss of loved ones to violence

Towanda Kellam carried a framed picture of her 15-year-old son, Lance Hartgrove, who was murdered on July 10, 2012.

Dina Rudick/Globe staff

Towanda Kellam carried a framed picture of her 15-year-old son, Lance Hartgrove, who was murdered on July 10, 2012.

Mothers came bearing photos, buttons, and banners, some wearing purple to represent peace. Here and there amid the crowd, a face was streaked with tears.

The acknowledgments of loss were everywhere, but a day that might have been somber became suffused with hope, as mothers of children lost to violence gathered beneath a dazzling blue sky to share a simple message: Peace is possible.

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That is the rallying cry of Tina Chéry, whose 15-year-old son was killed by gang crossfire days before Christmas 1993, and the message that mothers, fathers, and their supporters spread in Dorchester Sunday at the 18th annual Mother’s Day Walk for Peace.

As Chéry marched down Washington Street surrounded by a crowd of supporters that organizers estimated at 10,000, she said the turnout sent a message.

“It means that concept and vision of one Boston — people really do care. There’s more people working for peace than the small percentage that are doing the violence,” said Chéry, who founded the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute in her son’s memory and organizes the Mother’s Day walk each year.

Chéry marched beside mothers, sisters, wives, girlfriends, fathers, brothers, and friends of those lost to violence.

Layah Quilt’s boyfriend, Brandon A. John, 18, was Boston’s second homicide victim of 2014, shot several times on quiet Rowe Street in Roslindale on Jan. 9.

“He was at the wrong place at the wrong time,” said Quilt, 17, who had been dating John for just under a year.

“It’s been really stressful,” said Quilt, who added that she couldn’t find words to express her feelings.

Mayor Martin J. Walsh joined the march, as he has done regularly since it began.

He said that after a violent beginning to the year, shootings in Boston have decreased by about 28 percent since the city introduced a gun buyback program in March. Walsh said Boston police had so far collected 305 firearms through the buyback program and seized another 205.

“The gun buyback program I know has been effective, because so many of the guns we’ve taken off the street were high-quality guns,” he said.

Still, he said, the city’s 21 homicides this year are troubling. “That’s 21 too many,” he said.

By May 9, 2013, the city had seen 15 homicides, a police spokeswoman said.

Walsh said officials are preparing for summer, when violence typically increases, by planning later hours and more activities for city parks, as well as more summer jobs for young people.

On street corners, front stoops, and balconies along the march route, residents clustered, many of them women holding young children, to watch the throngs stream past. Some sipped mugs of morning coffee; others extended smartphones to capture photos or video of the scene.

Marchers beat drums and chanted, “What do we want? Peace! When do we want it? Now!”

The mood was buoyant, but for some, the pain of loss remained fresh.

Carla Sheffield, 49, wept as she remembered her son Burrell Ramsey-White, who was shot and killed by a Boston police officer in August 2012.

“This is about kids being gunned down by other kids, but they don’t talk about kids being gunned down by the police,” Sheffield said.

Sheffield questioned an investigation by Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley’s office that found that Ramsey-White had pointed a gun at the officer who shot him, and that the officer fired in self defense.

“They didn’t investigate to get justice; they investigated to clear that officer,” she said.

A spokesman for Conley, who also marched Sunday, said an independent panel of community stakeholders reviewed the investigation’s findings and that all documents were made available to the news media, as is standard in fatalities involving police.

Sunday’s marchers included Denise Richard, whose 8-year-old son, Martin, died in the Boston Marathon bombings;, and Scarlett Lewis, whose 6-year-old son, Jesse, was among 20 children and six adults killed in December 2012 in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn.

Richard walked with many friends and neighbors in yellow Team MR8 shirts like those worn by runners for the Martin W. Richard Charitable Foundation in this year’s Marathon.

Richard family friend Stacey Monahan, 41, said her Dorchester neighborhood had come together to support the family after the bombings and continued to work together in Martin’s memory.

“This walk complements the whole mission of the MR8 Foundation to foster peace and unity,” Monahan said.

At the walk’s end, Lewis stood arm in arm with Chéry, watching marchers return to Town Field Park in Fields Corner. Lewis said she reached out to Chéry after the school shooting and later, when she founded the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Foundation, invited Chéry to serve on its advisory board.

Lewis came to the march with her mother, Maureen Lewis, and 13-year-old son J.T. The trip from Connecticut was her Mother’s Day gift, she said.

“This is where I want to be,” Lewis said. “These are my people: other mothers who’ve lost children to senseless violence. . . . They know exactly what I’m going through, how I’m feeling.”

Despite the loss she and so many mothers have endured, Lewis said she remains hopeful that the violence can end.

“It is possible,” she said. “It just [requires] everyone to take responsibility for what’s going on in our world.”

Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.
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