Taking Back the Community: Local moms band together to stop violence

HAMPTON, Va. (WAVY) — The watchful eye of a mother is hard to escape, which is the reason why some local mothers are joining together to stop the violence in Hampton Roads. A group of Virginia mothers share an uncommon and tragic bond: their children were murdered.

The mother of 17-year-old Jermell Hayes, who was shot and killed six months ago in Newport News, says she misses her son every single day.

“He was loved,” said Hayes’ mother, Anita Gonzalez. “He’s missed. He is thought about everyday.”

Hayes was shot along Deputy Lane, next to a park. He was there visiting some friends.

“I know he was here,” Gonzalez added. “Whoever he was here with, he trusted.”

Gonzalez said she used to live in that the area, but moved her children to a safer place. She sent her three sons to private school and yet, tragedy still found her.

“It’s a pain,” she said. “It’s a hurt that is never going to go away. I don’t want this to happen to anybody else. Me and my son always battle and debated about him going to college, because he wanted to open a sneaker store.”

So, she continued his dream and started a sneaker company: Mellow’s World. It’s something Gonzalez wishes they could have done together — when he was alive. She learned her son was killed on May 15.

“I was frozen, stuck. I didn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe it. It just wasn’t something that was real to me,” said Gonzalez.

Police showed Gonzalez a picture of the shooting scene. She recognized his sneakers. It’s a pain so deep that it’s pushing her to take back her community.

“We need to be there for one another, have each others back and help our youth grow,” said Gonzalez.

She’s part of the group Mothers Against Violence. It’s a group of moms who share a unique bond that begins with tragedy.

“Your child is my child, my child is your child,” said Karen Wilder, who also lost her son to violence. “I think its going to be a task but I think we have to take back our community and report things when we see that that’s not right, communicate with law enforcement… They are here to protect us.”

Wilder’s son was shot eight times during a robbery.

“People need to realize when they watch the news and see a child gunned down, they need to realize that their children could be next,” said Wilder. “They need to come forward and tell police what they saw and they need to put these people away.”

As a result of that, the group of mothers felt the push to do something and that something includes workshops, anger management programs, support groups, walks, marches and shared moments of prayer.

Mothers Against Violence was founded by Patricia L. Harris following the tragic death of her eldest son, Eric Antonio Matthews in 2001. Tragically, her son’s death was Harris’ second loss of a child since her step daughter Delicia Matthews’ death in 1995. Both children died before age 24 due to gun violence.

“I pray that none of these young men will be a statistic,” said Patrice Matthews, co-founder of Mothers Against Violence. “We were getting ready to exchange gifts for Christmas and my brother was killed.”

And just as Jermell once walked in his favorite sneakers, his mother is now running with a message.

“We need to be there for one another, have each others back and help our youth grow,” said Gonzalez. “We need take back our streets.”