As Circles Of Grief Grow Wider In South LA, The Supports Grow Stronger On the streets of South Los Angeles, where gang shootings have surged, losing a child can be a mother's greatest fear. Now, some mothers whose kids have been killed are trying to make a difference.
NPR logo

As Circles Of Grief Grow Wider In South LA, The Supports Grow Stronger

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/441142538/445490428" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
As Circles Of Grief Grow Wider In South LA, The Supports Grow Stronger

As Circles Of Grief Grow Wider In South LA, The Supports Grow Stronger

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/441142538/445490428" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

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.

REYEZ: OK

JONES: OK?

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.

Copyright © 2015 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.