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Thousands join Mother’s Day walk to remember violence victims

Carine Belizaire of Hyde Park (center) held a picture of her brother, who was killed in Dorchester on September 28, 2009. during the Walk for Peace in Dorchester.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

When Tracy Williams’s son asked what she wanted for Mother’s Day, the Boston mom could think of only one thing: Her other son.

“I said, ‘I want my son back!’ ” Williams recalled as tears streamed down her face. “I want my son to come home.”

Her 21-year-old son, Willie “Bill Bill” Williams, of Roxbury, was gunned down on Lincoln Street in Hyde Park following a late-night party on March 15. He died at the scene.

Tracy Williams’s wounds were still raw Sunday as she joined more than 10,000 mothers, fathers, and others — many of whom have lost loved ones to violence — for the 19th annual Mother’s Day Walk for Peace, which wound through Dorchester.


Williams said she broke down and cried three times during the 3.6-mile walk.

“I didn’t want to walk,” said Williams, who marched with family and friends, all wearing T-shirts bearing Willie’s image. “So many mothers said I must walk. I did this for my son.”

The march, which began in 1996, is the brainchild of Tina Chery, who created it to support families who have lost children to violence and to help them transform their pain and anger into something positive.

“Violence does not discriminate,” said Chery, who heads the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute, which she started in her slain son’s memory. “This is really one way of uniting and creating this one Boston we’re all looking for. It is a way to bring the community together.”

In 1993, Chery’s 15-year-old son was killed by gang cross fire just days before Christmas while walking to a Teens Against Gang Violence event.

Mayor Martin J. Walsh, a longtime supporter of the peace rally, commended Chery for “taking what was a tragedy in her family and turning it into something beautiful for our world. The walk for peace should be every day.”


Police Commissioner William B. Evans was also in attendance as well as a host of local elected officials.

Marchers filled the street during the Mother's Day walk for Peace.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Ursula Ward, the mother of Odin Lloyd, who was killed by former New England Patriots star Aaron Hernandez, and the family of Boston Marathon bombing victim Martin Richard participated in the rally.

The nonprofit Louis D. Brown Peace Institute, founded in 1994, assists survivors of homicide victims with crisis management services and continuing support. Organizers said the march raised about $330,000 to benefit the group, its programs, and community initiatives. Chery said the goal was $400,000. Last year the group raised $160,000, she said.

It is the type of support that has helped to keep Janice Johnson grounded since her 39-year-old brother Eric was stabbed to death in Mattapan in 2006 following an argument with another man.

Johnson, 53, of Dorchester, thought the pain would ease when the man responsible for her brother’s death was sentenced to 14 years behind bars in 2008, but it didn’t.

She has since found peace in participating in the annual rally and in helping others who are also trying to cope with the loss of a relative.

“I go out and try to help everybody,” she said holding up a poster bearing her brother’s photo and the words “Team Mattapan,” Just several feet away, Leonard Lee, 57, found himself in a position he never thought he would be in.

The Boston man, who helped bury 47 young people and worked the city’s tough streets for 30 years in an effort to curb youth violence, never expected he would lose his nephew in that way.


Warren “Danny” Hairston, 21, was found with a gunshot wound to the back of his head in 2007.

Lee, who said Hairston’s mother had struggled with drug abuse, raised Hairston as if he were his own.

“When I got the call I was devastated,” he said recalling the day he learned that his nephew had been shot to death. “It’s one thing when it’s happening to someone else and giving them support and then you turn around and it’s you. It’s ironic.”

Some participants marched to honor multiple loved ones.

Dorchester activist Isaura Mendes lost two sons and four nephews to gun violence in the neighborhood, she said.

Her son Alexander Matthew Mendes, 24, was shot and killed in 2006, 11 years after another son, Bobby, 23, was stabbed to death.

“No matter how long we walk, we will never find peace, but we can forgive,” she said. “If we forgive we won’t seek revenge.”

Joined by her family, Natasha Steele, 44, marched for her 18-year-old son Cedi’Rick T. Steele, who was killed in 2007, and two cousins, Jawon Martin, 14, and Cerrone Hemmingway, 15 — killed in 2010 and 1998, respectively.

The march has been a part of the Steele family tradition for the last eight years.

Steele, 18, a student at Bunker Hill Community College, was shot to death on a Roxbury Street by two gang members.


“I try to keep his memory alive and let everyone know he will live on through me,” said Steele, who had a picture of her son painted onto the back of a white T-shirt. “This is one day that you want to get out of bed. You know you’re going to see a lot of faces and you’re not going to be alone.”

Tina Chery (left) hugged Denise Richard during the Mother’s Day walk for Peace in Dorchester on Sunday.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Jan Ransom can be reached at jan.ransom@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Jan_Ransom.