The Rev. Kim Odom was surprised when her visit to the White House Tuesday with a group of gun control advocates included an unscheduled meeting with Michelle Obama. She was also surprised at her own reaction to her conversation with the Obama.
As she always does, Odom had carried with her a picture of her son Steven, who was murdered in Dorchester in 2007. Steven was just 13, walking home from playing basketball, 20 minutes before his curfew, when he was shot.
“I had Steven’s picture with me, and she asked about him, and we had a chance to share his story,” Odom said by telephone. “I got emotional with her. And she just validated that what we were doing is important. It’s wonderful that we were able to take our grief and honor our son in that way. I thanked her, and I asked her to thank the president for taking on this issue.”
Odom and her husband, the Rev. Ronald Odom Sr., were doing what they have devoted the last five years of their lives to: advocating against gun violence, against the waste of innocent young lives. Kim Odom attended Tuesday night’s State of the Union message as the guest of Senator Elizabeth Warren.
The Odoms were in Washington with a group organized by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a group spearheaded by Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York and our own Thomas M. Menino. The group is pushing for a range of gun control measures, including limiting the sales of high-capacity weapons.
The trip was part of the intense focus on gun violence that has followed the massacre last year in Newtown, Conn. Gun violence, written off as a priority for years, is something Washington is finally talking about.
For the Odoms, an intensely personal tragedy has become a political crusade.
“It’s bittersweet that we’re all here, here because of the gun violence in our communities,” Kim Odom said. “Those of us who are here recognize how important our voices are and the voices of those who have been murdered. We recognize those who were not physically able to be here and those who couldn’t raise their voices because they are so overwhelmed with grief. We are representing those siblings and aunts and uncles and young people in our communities.”
For Odom, the past few years have been an education on the root causes of violence. She said she has developed a new appreciation for the importance of reducing the number of guns on the street.
“I’ve learned that this epidemic is happening because of illegal gun violence,” she said. “People are taking advantage of loopholes to get guns.”
Three years ago, Kim Odom stood in a Suffolk County courtroom and talked about the aftermath of hearing shots ring out and finding her son’s body on the sidewalk. “I refused to believe it was Steven,” she said that day, “I stood over Steven in shock, and today I am still in shock, but I refuse to let Steven’s life end on the sidewalk.”
Bitterness has never been the Odoms’ way. They have responded to grief by working to spare other families the same pain.
Only periodically, Odom said, does she feel the full emotional brunt of her work. Spending the day in the company of other survivors of violence made an impression. “I don’t think we realized how much this impacted us. We’re going, we’re going, and then we sit down and we really reflect.”
The Odoms’ real mission has little to do with legislation. Their quest is to give their son’s life — and his awful death — meaning.
“His life did not end on that sidewalk,” Kim Odom said. “I will not allow his life to be dismissed as if he’s a statistic, a stereotype. We can’t allow people to just dismiss our children’s lives as if they had no value.”Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Adrian_Walker.
Correction: Because of a reporting error, an earlier version of this column misstated the name of an antihandgun organization. It is Mayors Against Illegal Guns.