Grieving mother’s march draws hundreds, her tears

Isaura Mendes, at left with bullhorn, led the 11th Walk for Peace yesterday. Before the march, Mayor Thomas M. Menino injured his left leg while trying to step onto the makeshift stage to address the group on Hillsboro Street in Dorchester. Isaura Mendes, at left with bullhorn, led the 11th Walk for Peace yesterday. Before the march, Mayor Thomas M. Menino injured his left leg while trying to step onto the makeshift stage to address the group on Hillsboro Street in Dorchester. (Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff)
By Sean Teehan
Globe Correspondent / July 12, 2010

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Standing in a small lot bordered by chain-linked fences off Hillsboro Street in Dorchester yesterday afternoon, Isaura Mendes tearfully hugged Shannon Flattery, her partner in planning 10 peace marches over the past 11 years.

“Why are you crying?’’ Flattery asked as she drew Mendes closer.

“I have to give it up,’’ Mendes said, choking up.

In 2000, Mendes and Flattery established a July march for peace in honor of Mendes’s son Bobby, who was slain in 1995 at the age of 23. Since that first march, Isaura Mendes and Flattery have organized them each year since then (Flattery, however, could not organize the march this year because of meningitis).

Mendes kept on even after she lost a second son, Alex “Matthew’’ Mendes, in a drive-by shooting in 2006. Yesterday’s march marked the 11th and possibly last march because of Mendes’s exhaustion organizing it with little resources, she said.

As she has in years past, Mendes used yesterday’s march to preach a message of forgiveness.

“Let me show you about forgiveness,’’ she said before the march, pointing to a banner that had hung from the balcony of her second-floor Groom Street residence since 2008. The banner features a picture of her son Bobby and includes the words, “The murder of Bobby Mendes ended in forgiveness; do you possess the strength to forgive?’’

In 2008, she expressed forgiveness to her son’s convicted killer and told him she prayed that nothing bad would happen to him.

“I took the stand in that courtroom and forgave him, and that forgiveness is real,’’ she said before greeting Mayor Thomas M. Menino, Councilor Chuck Turner, and Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis, among other city officials who gathered in the lot. The space held a tent, tables, and a stage consisting of a wooden surface held up by milk cartons.

Thirty minutes before the march began, about 100 people, some holding signs and some donning T-shirts and pins bearing photos of lost loved ones, gathered.

“It’s actually a good moment to remind people that we want peace in our neighborhoods,’’ said Stephany Trinidad, 19, of Roxbury. “The past two years, I’ve lost two good friends.’’

Mendes stepped up to the stage and spoke about peace and forgiveness before breaking into sobs. “It’s so hard to give up my peace walk, but I need a lot of help,’’ she said as volunteer Sarah Mausner stepped onstage to comfort her. “I am so strong . . . but I have to give it up.’’

“We love you Isaura,’’ someone shouted from the audience.

Following Mendes, Councilor at Large Ayanna Pressley spoke of community responsibility for curbing violence. “You know, they say it takes a village; well, sometimes it feels like the village is burning down,’’ she said.

Then it was Menino’s turn to speak. There was a brief moment of concern when the mayor tripped while stepping onto the stage. He got a scrape on his shin, which was treated with a Band-Aid, according to Christopher Loh, a spokesman for Menino.

When the mayor took the stage, he said, “People are more committed in this city than I’ve seen in a lot of years.’’

There has to be community involvement, and parents need to know where their children are, he said. “The police can’t do it by themselves.’’

After a prayer led by the Rev. Jack Ahern of St. Peter Church in Dorchester, the group began marching on Hillsboro Street, turning onto Groom Street, which was lined with purple and green balloons tied to fences (purple for peace, and green to represent the courage of Mendes’s son Alex, Mendes said).

Mendes led the crowd with a bullhorn shouting, “What do we want?’’ while the crowd responded, “Peace!’’

“I think [the march] sends a message,’’ said Danaya Docanto, who lost her uncle Eddie Brito in 2006 and friend Paola Castillo in 2009 to violence.

As marchers made their way to Dudley Town Common, more than 100 people joined the walk.

After concluding speeches by Mendes, Councilor Charles C. Yancey and others, the marchers walked back to the Hillsboro Street lot for refreshments.

Nicholas Lopes, 23, of Dorchester said that over the six years he has participated in the march, two of his cousins were killed in street violence.

When asked whether he thought this would be the final march for peace, Lopes responded, “I hope not.’’

Sean Teehan can be reached at

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