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Baltimore police chaplain: I will ‘Wear Orange’ this weekend to stop gun violence and honor my slain son | COMMENTARY

Demonstrators post the names of loved ones who have died by gun violence at a Wear Orange rally in New York in 2019. The annual event takes place throughout the country each year to bring awareness to efforts to end gun violence.
Demonstrators post the names of loved ones who have died by gun violence at a Wear Orange rally in New York in 2019. The annual event takes place throughout the country each year to bring awareness to efforts to end gun violence. (Wes Parnell / New York Daily News)

This weekend is the seventh annual Wear Orange weekend, when Americans come together to demand a future free from gun violence. We wear orange to honor those taken and wounded by guns and call for an end to this senseless violence.

Wear Orange was started by Chicago youth to honor Hadiya Pendleton, who was killed one week after her high school band marched in President Obama’s second inaugural parade. After her death, her friends asked us to speak out and wear the color orange to raise awareness about gun violence. They chose this bright, life-affirming color because it’s what hunters wear for protection. Orange stands out to the human eye and says, “Don’t shoot!”

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This weekend, I’ll proudly wear orange for Baltimore, and for my loving son, Tavon Terrell Waters Sr., who was shot while stopped at a light on Oct. 18, 2006. When I got the frantic call from his grandmother, my whole world stopped. I hurriedly gathered up my 6-month-old baby girl and rushed to the hospital. When I arrived, Tavon’s oldest brother, James Jr., was standing outside with despair in his eyes. When he wouldn’t respond to me, my heart dropped. I didn’t know if my son was living or dead. From the doctors, I learned my 23-year-old baby was paralyzed from the neck down.

The Lord blessed me with two and a half heart-wrenching years with my son before he died in April 2009. As difficult as it was, nursing one baby while keeping watch over another’s hospital bed, I’m grateful for every minute. Tavon was a gentle soul. He excelled academically, was an honor roll student and even represented his school to the state of Maryland. He brought young people on college tours to share his love of learning. He took care of his siblings, grandmother and our whole community. At Thanksgiving, he gave out turkeys in the Park Heights community in northwest Baltimore. He spread light to everyone around him. To this day, I hear stories about how compassionate he was.

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A senseless act of violence took my child from me, but I don’t hold hate in my heart for the young men involved in his shooting. I don’t know who they are, but I pray for them. So many people in our city, especially youth, are in pain. The day my son was shot, God gave me instant grace and forgiveness and placed this question in my heart: Could I help these young men illuminate the light that dwells in their spirit?

With forgiveness comes healing and hope. I’ve learned that what hope really means is “Hold On, Pain Ends.” Fourteen years later, I’ve been graced with peace in my heart. Only God’s mercy has carried me through. My son isn’t gone — he’s with me on this journey to end gun violence.

I was born and raised in beloved Baltimore. My heart breaks at the violence we’re seeing in our neighborhoods. People are hurting, but I believe in our amazing city. I’ve been an advocate since age 13 and will never give up on my city. We need to help and heal our young people. We need mothers and fathers to come together, with our youth and elders, to lift each other up. As a mom, survivor and woman of faith, I’m sending this clarion call for everyone to do more. Baltimore needs us to bring hope to the broken places.

In my historic Druid Heights neighborhood and across our city, I’ve seen too many lives taken and families traumatized by gun violence. This epidemic does not hit all communities equally but impacts the same families and neighborhoods again and again, inflicting and deepening individual and community trauma. For every precious life and spirit taken away, their loved ones and community feel the pain.

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This weekend, I’ll wear orange, but I won’t stop there. I’ll continue to honor my son’s legacy and be an instrument of light in my community through my ministries — working as a Baltimore police chaplain, supporting my sister-survivors in Mothers of Murdered Sons and Daughters, advocating with Moms Demand Action and the Everytown Survivor Network for legislative action, and serving my community by helping those working to heal the pain.

I hope you’ll join me — and ask others to join you — in spreading this message of hope: We can end gun violence.

Denise Reid (glory2hisname47@yahoo.com) is a Baltimore police chaplain and volunteer with Moms Demand Action. On Saturday, June 5, she’ll speak at a virtual event about forgiveness as a gun violence survivor. For details, go to WearOrange.org.

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