January 2020

It is Martin Luther King’s birthday and today we honor his memory all over the country. People come together to learn, to talk, and to do good, in his name. Clothing, books, electronics are collected and organized for distribution to those who need them; neighborhoods are cleaned up, and people of diverse backgrounds and ethnicities come together across America.

In addition, in our little corner of Main Line Philadelphia, we listened and shared grief together. And we also celebrated life.

In Beth Am Israel, over these last few weeks, in the synagogue Sanctuary and throughout the whole building, “Souls Shot”, portraits of people killed by gun violence were on display. And on Monday, January 20, on what would have been MLK’s birthday, we heard from the mothers of two of the murdered.

Trina, the mother of Daryl, murdered at age 24 (on the night before his 25th birthday), stands with her 8-year-old son and her mother, in front of one of Daryl’s portraits.

Lisa, holds Elisa Abeloff, the artist who painted her son’s portrait, as they listen to Trina speak.

Lisa’s son, Alan (also known as ‘Fresh’ because of the fresh sneakers he always wore) describes how she was afraid to even see the finished portrait. Likewise, Elisa, said she felt like throwing up when she sent the portrait to her. Both were afraid, the artist because she feared it would not be enough and the mother because she feared it would be too much.

Lisa admitted that she wanted to find something wrong with it—but she just couldn’t. “It was perfect,” she said.

After hearing details of the emotions that both mothers were feeling then, and are still feeling now, the program was open to comments and questions.

In keeping with my emphasis on life, I asked, “Besides the grief, when you think of your son, what brings you joy?”

Lisa answered immediately, “His smile.” When you saw him, the first thing you saw were his teeth!”

Trina, who looked over at her 8-year-old child, before she answered (he was 5 when his brother was murdered) responded: “I always think of what a wonderful big brother he was!”

Life goes on, but it will never be the same. Both mothers said that these portraits of their sons have truly helped them. Trina concluded, “This program shows us that they are not forgotten.”

Like my emphasis in the Eyes from the Ashes photos, it is who these people were in LIFE, not the victims they became in DEATH, on which I choose to put the emphasis—while never forgetting how, nor minimizing that, they died.

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