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Pastor, grieving mother launch support group

The pain and sadness caused by Chicago's chronic gun violence have led the founder of a national anti-violence movement to establish a group chapter in the city.

"There's such a need," said Dorothy Johnson-Speight, founder of Mothers in Charge, which offers grief counseling to relatives of people killed by guns as well as violence prevention education.

Johnson-Speight created the group after her son, Khaaliq Jabbar Johnson, was fatally shot in 2001 over a parking dispute in Philadelphia. Chapters have formed in San Francisco; Los Angeles; the New York City borough Brooklyn; Atlantic City, N.J.; Wilmington, Del.; Kansas City, Mo.; and Nashville, Tenn.

On Sunday, the Rev. Tasha Brown, pastor of Galewood Community Church on Chicago's West Side, announced the formation of a Chicago chapter, which she will lead.

The chapter's opening comes after the city tallied more homicides this year for January than it has since 2002.

Among the fatalities last month were Ronnie Chambers, 33, the fourth — and last — child of Shirley Chambers to die by gun violence, and Hadiya Pendleton, 15, who was killed about a week after she performed with her school band at the presidential inauguration.

"Everyone has a part. They can call 3-1-1 (the city of Chicago's information line) if they see something. They can give someone a hug," Brown said.

Carolyn Champion, whose son Cortez was killed with two others in a 2011 shooting, is also helping lead the Chicago group. Champion, 52, said the local chapter will focus on spirituality, as well as support services for the families of offenders and a youth mentoring program.

"We're reaching out to victims' families and the offenders' families. They're victims too," Champion said.

Brown and Champion acknowledged that there are already groups with a similar mission in Chicago. Both said Mothers in Charge hopes to work with them.

"There's enough work to go around," Brown said.

Johnson-Speight said more than 80 percent of the people whom Mothers in Charge helps are mothers of gun violence victims, though support is also available to fathers, grandparents, siblings and friends.

"I believe in organizing women and folks who are concerned about this issue," Johnson-Speight said.

The Chicago group will engage the public with activities this spring, but it already has one supporter.

On Sunday, Shirley Chambers attended a worship service in her honor at Galewood church and committed to working with the new group. Members took up a special collection for her.

In addition to Ronnie, Chambers' son Carlos, 18, was shot and killed just after Thanksgiving 1995 at Jackson Boulevard and State Street. Her daughter LaToya, 15, was fatally shot in April 2000 in the lobby of a Cabrini-Green high-rise, and her son Jerome, 23, was killed in July 2000 while standing at a pay phone in the 400 block of West Chicago Avenue.

Ronnie was killed, police said, when a gunman or gunmen opened fire on a van in the 1100 block of South Mozart Street. Ronnie was inside. He is set to be buried Monday.

"My son, he was so beautiful. He tried to do what's right. And I'm thankful to be in his life for 33 years," Chambers said. "I'm just praying that something good will come out of this, and I can help other mothers."

saho@tribune.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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