Morticians and the Emotional Toll of Youth Violence Youth violence touches many communities. But its impact on funeral directors is often overlooked. It's inevitavble that the profession will sometimes hit close to home. Black funeral professionals share emotional stories of their service to those who died too soon.
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Morticians and the Emotional Toll of Youth Violence

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Morticians and the Emotional Toll of Youth Violence

Morticians and the Emotional Toll of Youth Violence

Morticians and the Emotional Toll of Youth Violence

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Youth violence touches many communities. But its impact on funeral directors is often overlooked. It's inevitavble that the profession will sometimes hit close to home. Black funeral professionals share emotional stories of their service to those who died too soon.

MICHEL MARTIN, host:

On a much more serious note now, one of the criticisms of television programs - no matter how gritty or true-to-life they may appear - is that they rarely show the real impact of violence.

In reality, violent crime devastates families and can destroy entire communities, and those whose business it is to care for the dead sometimes find themselves overwhelmed by the brutality, especially when it touches young people.

That was on the minds of African-American funeral professionals at the recent National Funeral Directors and Morticians Association Convention in Philadelphia. Some shared their stories of youth violence with us.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. JANET POWELL (Member, National Funeral Directors and Morticians Associations; Owner, Powell Mortuary Services): My name is Janet Powell.

Mr. ERNEST C. ADAMS, JR. (Vice President, National Funeral Directors and Morticians Associations): My name is Ernest C. Adams, Jr.

Ms. JAMYE JETER CAMERON (Chairperson, Membership Committee, National Funeral Directors and Morticians Associations): Well, my name is Jamye Jeter Cameron.

Mr. NOEL COTTON (Member, National Funeral Directors and Morticians Associations; Owner, Sid Roberts Funeral Home): My name is Noel Cotton.

Mr. ALBERT TILLMAN (District Officer, National Funeral Directors and Morticians Associations, District 8; Owner, Tillman Riverside Mortuary): My name is Albert Tillman, and I am the owner of Tillman Riverside Mortuary in Riverside, California. I have been in the business since 19 and 71. I really start noticing youth violence about 20 years ago when I opened up my own business. And seeing families and I start seeing the youth and starts finding out what happened, how they died, why they had died, where they had died, that's when it really became a reality to me.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. TILLMAN: What hurt me the most is I'm - not only I am a father, but I'm a grandfather and I have children about - grandchildren. My grandchildren are between the age of six and 21, so when I see these children lying on my table and in a casket, then it brings back reality to me and it makes me think of my own grandchildren. It could have been mine.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. POWELL: The name of the business is Powell Mortuary Services. We are located in North Philadelphia. We've been there since 1929.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. POWELL: The one thing that hurts me in my work is when I have to watch a mother who is suffering the loss of her child.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. POWELL: How close it was to me was when a friend of my son's was killed directly across the street from our funeral home, and that my son had to make the phone call to me to tell me that he had been killed. They used to go to camp together. They went to football camp together. He spent nights at my house with my son. And to hear about his death was traumatic for not just me, but the entire neighborhood. It was horrible.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. CAMERON: I'm employed with Jeter Memorial Funeral Homes.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. CAMERON: Late '80s, early '90s, Detroit was considered one of the murder capitals of, you know, of the country. And my own personal story, in January 26th of 1996, I, in fact, was a victim of a random crime where a young man, coming down the street, just by chance happened to rob me, and at that time shot me twice. And just in February of this year, I've had that one bullet that had been lodged in my back removed.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. CAMERON: Previously, I always thought that, you know, maybe those people were doing something bad or, you know, whatever, but what we're coming to find out is that it's not always a situation where people are involved in the violence. As it is, it's that the violence is finding them.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. COTTON: I'm from Nacogdoches, Texas, the oldest town in Texas. And the name of my company is Sid Roberts Funeral Home. The business itself has been in operation for 89 years. I'm the third generation. I bought the facility from my father and my mother.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. COTTON: I knew the youth violence had crossed the line when we were beginning to see some of the younger people coming into the funeral home and actually have no kind of feelings towards the person that was actually lying there. They were just coming as a spectacle to kind of see what had happened and if then you could tell what had actually taken place.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. ADAMS: I'm from Greenville, South Carolina, and I work with the firm of Watkins, Garett and Woods in Greenville. I've been in business over 32 years now. The thing that hurts me most is seeing mothers cry over their sons.

Ms. CAMERON: The thing that hurts me most in this line of work is would you see - where you do have young men. As a matter of fact, this past month, I had two young men who came in within two days apart - one 19, one in the age of 18. And I think the part that hurts me most about that is to seeing how young they are. But it's the servicing those families and seeing how those families are, you know, are dealing with the grief from the consequences and circumstances that have taken place.

Mr. COTTON: A young man that I had been mentoring for some years in a middle school had grown up and had gotten into some trouble, but he would still come in talk and have, you know, counseling with me. I was in the barbershop, getting a haircut and we were talking. And he said to me, you know, I'm doing good. I'm taking care of myself. And I said, are you sure about that, because I've been hearing otherwise. And he says, no, no, Mr. Cotton. I'm taking care of business. And that very next night, some guys that he had had an issue with, they had gotten into it and they were at the club, a guy walks up between two cops, shoots him in the head, kills him right there. When I got the call, it just crushed my heart because I had talked to him just the day before.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. CAMERON: I fight youth violence in my community by being very boisterous as far as, you know, letting people know of what's going on within our communities, and my mother has been instrumental in helping the young people in our community. We have annual parties for our, you know, for our youth - block parties on our lot, you know, for trying to give them some ideas of different things that can happen for them, you know, rather than, you know, giving them the impression that no one cares about them.

Ms. POWELL: I started working in an anti-violence program that I've developed over 22 years of visiting schools with a casket, with a play, and had a lot of good results from that.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. ADAMS: Within my own particular church, I formed the higher education committee plan. We are trying to get young boys and girls to, instead of getting involved in gangs, to go to school. And we are assisting them, because it's just getting to the place where it's like, it's beginning to get outrageous.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. TILLMAN: My hope for my community would be that we get together and make it so that things could be like they used to be. My wife is - locks up the house, and see we got different keys to get in the house. And when I was growing up, you could crawl through the window, or front door was open so that you could go in. So that's the kind of community that I would like to have, that I wouldn't have to lock my front door, lock my garage. Whenever we have grandchildren and they're walking the street, if they do something wrong, some other parents will get them and straighten them out and do things like that.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. TILLMAN: If things don't change in our community, I worry that - this might seem funny - but there might not be any black males left in our community serving positive role models. And I would certainly hate for that to happen.

(Soundbite of music)

MARTIN: We heard from Earnest Adams of Greenville, South Carolina, Jaime Jeter Cameron of Detroit, Noel Cotton from Nacogdoches, Texas, Janet Powell from Philadelphia and Albert Tillman of Riverside, California. They spoke with us from the National Funeral Directors & Morticians Association Convention in Philadelphia.

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