Mourning Families March for the Dead
Beverly Franklin has plenty of reasons to be proud of her daughter.
Stephanie Franklin graduated from Oakland Technical High School. She studied nursing at Merritt College. She was beautiful.
At the age of 18, just a week after making the dean's list as a freshman, Stephanie was murdered in a hail of gunfire while sitting in a car waiting to pick up a hamburger.
It was Feb. 1, 2004, a date Beverly can never forget.
So on Saturday, on the eve of Mother's Day, Franklin stood trembling on the sunny plaza in front of Oakland City Hall, telling a group of other mothers who have lost children to gun violence just how much she misses her daughter.
Her voice cracked, and she said she would not cry, but she did.
Nearly 50 women gathered early Saturday in front of Lake Merritt to hold a vigil for the dead. Some were the mothers of murdered children, some were their friends. Some were members of Boundless Hearts, a community group that staged the event. By the time they walked to City Hall plaza for more prayers, and some songs and dances to celebrate the children's lives, their ranks had swelled to 100.
The organizers called it Mother's Morning-Mourning.
"I feel sorry for what these mothers have been through," Franklin said. "I feel sorry for the mothers who will be going through this tomorrow. You hear about this happening, every day."
There were 148 homicides in Oakland last year, three-quarters of them "street shootings." Two-thirds of the victims were African American, and 126 of the victims were male. In the past five years, there have been 550 homicides in Oakland, part of a ghastly trend that is playing out in inner cities across the nation.
Oakland has recorded 34 homicides so far this year. The latest occurred Friday night when a man was found shot dead on the 1600 block of 28th Avenue, but police could provide no other details.
Tracy Christian had expected to celebrate her son Harold Butler Jr.'s 18th birthday on May 17, 2004. Instead, she mourned his death. He was killed instantly in the final minutes of May 16, 2004, shot in the chest when a group of young men shot up the East Oakland liquor store where he was hanging out with friends.
She moved with her five other children to Lathrop, in San Joaquin County.
Anthony Butler had also been a student, like his brother, at Skyline High School. He went back to Oakland last summer, to visit friends and have a picnic. "We lost him, too," said Tracy.
On July 29, 2006, Anthony was shot in the head, allegedly by a 15-year-old riding by on a bicycle. Anthony died at the age of 17, a month away from his birthday.
Tracy has since moved back to Oakland, with her four other children. She was drawn to the morning vigil because she believes mothers need to take a stand against the violence that is eating away a generation of African American youth. "This is like healing for me," she said.
At the start of the vigil, she looked at the small crowd gathered by the lake. "I'm surprised the whole path around the lake is not filled with people," she said. "We've lost so many children."
Tracy, too, addressed the group when it reached City Hall plaza. "I am a mourning mother," she introduced herself. "The mourning process never goes away. It just gets easier to deal with."
She spoke of attending her oldest son Harold's graduation, where instead of a diploma, his classmates honored him with two minutes of silence. "I am hurt," Tracy said, "that I won't be able to experience being grandmother to their children."
As much as it hurts, Tracy told the other mothers of slain children that they must get on with their lives.
"I am still the loving, caring and strict mother" of four other children, she said. Of her two lost boys, she said, "It is more important to remember the joy that they lived."
Most participants at Saturday's vigil dressed in red, and many carried wispy red streamers on sticks that caught the morning breeze. Pamela Ayo Yetunde, a chaplain who founded Boundless Hearts and organized the event, told the gathering that she asked them to wear red "to represent the blood shed in our city" and also to symbolize the "hope and life that blood also represents."
Clare O'Brien came to the gathering to remember her son, Michael, who was shot 12 times in August. The men who killed him were never caught. He was 26.
"I don't know when they put down their fists and picked up guns," she said. "He left behind a wife and four children. They are still hurting."