SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Losing a child is a mother's greatest fear. That fear is a fact of life in South Los Angeles. Gloria Hillard reports on a group of mothers who've lost children to gang violence and who used their grief to make a difference.
GLORIA HILLARD, BYLINE: On a wall next to Kathy Wooten's kitchen are photos of two of her sons - Branden and Kejuan.
KATHY WOOTEN: The took two pictures in back of you is my two oldest sons, who was both murdered 52 days apart in 2008, gang-related.
HILLARD: They are poster size, bigger than life.
WOOTEN: My oldest son was one of those people that brought everybody and a stray dog home. I tried everything in my power to deter them, to keep them busy, to keep them in church.
HILLARD: But the gangs here in South Los Angeles were here before her sons were born, and their pull is strong.
WOOTEN: You know, a lot of people wonder, like, Kathy, why is you still there 'cause I still have young adult children.
HILLARD: Memories bind you to a place, she says - the good and the bad.
WOOTEN: And I don't know. It's a piece of me still here because the work that I do is in memory and in honor of my sons.
HILLARD: Wooten is a gang intervention worker, and she started a grief and support group for families of violence.
WOOTEN: I done seen it all. I done seen it all.
HILLARD: How many moms like you in this...
WOOTEN: In this neighborhood? Give or take, probably over a hundred.
ARVIS JONES: Kathy's family was my first foray into a mother and gang violence and losing her children.
HILLARD: It was 2008, and Arvis Jones was working as a grief and trauma counselor.
JONES: And wouldn't you know would it happen to me later in the same year it happened to Kathy?
HILLARD: Jones's son was shot and killed by a gang member. It was a case of a mistaken identity.
JONES: It was young person that had killed him, you know - didn't even have enough sense to know he wasn't who they were looking for.
HILLARD: She knew full well what unresolved grief does to mothers.
JONES: They either do one of two things. They get depressed and stay home and close the shades, or they get out there...
HILLARD: Jones became a crisis response worker going to crime scenes, attending funerals. She asked me if I have met Betty Day.
JONES: Sometimes she's out there in the streets 3 o'clock in the morning. She's now 76, and we try to slow her down.
Yeah, she's here. Here's the park.
HILLARD: Its unofficial name is Betty's Park. It's a small, shaded patch of land in the South Los Angeles neighborhood, where kids are safe and don't go hungry. Betty Day, hands on hips, keeps one eye on a game of volleyball and a wary one on a street over her shoulder. The 76-year-old is just back from hospital.
BETTY DAY: I will not stay in the hospital, maybe five days. But I have to come home. I got to come see about these children.
HILLARD: And their moms. You'll often find them under the shade in plastic lawn chairs, listening to the advice of the woman they call Mamma Day.
DAY: We have quite a few people around here that have lost their children. That's a difficult thing. It's hard bringing up children here.
HILLARD: Arvis Jones says goodbye to Betty Day and climbs back into her SUV. The temperatures are nearing triple digits, and the air conditioner is blasting. She has one more stop - a young mother she has been helping since losing her 3-year-old son in an accident. It's the anniversary of his death.
JONES: So you went to the cemetery?
AMALIA REYEZ: Every Thursday, just to put on flowers 'cause they throw them out on Thursdays, the flowers.
HILLARD: Amalia Reyez tells Jones that another mother needs help, that her son was found dead in his car. It's an ever-expanding circle of mothers here.
JONES: Yeah, I'm going to send you Kathy's info. Make sure you call her.
HILLARD: Reyez nods and wipes away tears. She's worried about her older son. Jones gets out of the Ford Explorer and hugs her.
JONES: Yeah, we'll get him some help. We'll get him some help.
HILLARD: A promise made from one mother to another. For NPR News, I'm Gloria Hillard in Los Angeles.
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