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Yet again, families torn by violence walk for peace

Thousands raise funds to aid survivors, foster unity

Raylisa, 16 (left), and Rayshonda Williams, 19, walked yesterday in memory of their brother Da-Keen Galloway. Raylisa, 16 (left), and Rayshonda Williams, 19, walked yesterday in memory of their brother Da-Keen Galloway. (Pat Greenhouse/ Globe Staff)
By Stewart Bishop
Globe Correspondent / May 9, 2011

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It was just under a year ago that Marilyn Thomas-YisraEl’s son was shot to death as he sat in his wheelchair on their front porch. A bullet had hit Jihad Watters, 24, two years before, leaving him paralyzed. Last spring, he was enjoying a sunny afternoon and planning to barbecue before he was gunned down.

Yesterday, on a day meant to honor mothers and bring families together, Thomas-YisraEl could only think of the day her family was ripped apart.

“This is my first year without my son,’’ she said. “It’s really hard.’’

Early yesterday, she joined thousands of mothers, brothers, sisters, friends, and other supporters in the 15th annual Mother’s Day Walk for Peace, a 3.6-mile fund-raising walk through the heart of Dorchester.

Thomas-YisraEl and her daughter, Angelena, 21, carried signs bearing Watters’s face and the words “Gone but not forgotten.’’ Many marchers wore T-shirts bearing photos of lost loved ones, while others carried signs with messages of peace and unity.

“This march really means a lot to me, especially on Mother’s Day,’’ Thomas-YisraEl said. “We’re losing too many of our children out here.’’

The walk was started by Dorchester mother Tina Chery, whose son, Louis, 15, was caught in crossfire and killed on his way to an antiviolence-themed Christmas party in 1993.

Her son’s death inspired her to found the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute, which supports violence prevention efforts and services for survivors. Organizers said yesterday’s event raised more than $45,000 to benefit the peace institute.

In remarks before and after the event, Chery said that the walk was a way for mothers and other survivors of violence to come together for support and also to make a stand against the killings that continue to plague the community.

“We’re not going to stop. The more violence that continues, the more we’re going to be walking. Yesterday a 19-year-old was shot. I’m sure we all heard,’’ Chery said, referring to the man who was killed at the Savin Hill MBTA stop Saturday afternoon. “Families in our community are now suffering again, so we must continue, we must continue.’’

While the event was focused on mothers, this year’s march featured a special call to men, asking male family members to become a more active and vocal part of the healing process.

The Rev. Gerald E. Bell, pastor of the Strong Tower Church in Roxbury, spoke to the crowd before the march about being a survivor of violence and asked men to stand together for peace.

“I’m a victim of violence,’’ Bell said. “My father was shot in a pool room when I was 7 years old. I’ve been blessed to do a lot in my life, but it didn’t start out that way.’’ Bell said. “I think often we forget the impact of what families have to go through to overcome senseless violence.’’

Before the walk, Mayor Thomas M. Menino said: “We want peace in our streets. This is about people working together. We want to send a strong message out there we’re not going to tolerate the violence in the streets of America.’’

The Rev. Kim Odom of the True Vine Church in Dorchester, whose son, Steven, 13, was shot to death on Evans Street in 2007 walking home with friends after a basketball game, said the march was a way for families to celebrate the lives of lost loved ones and acknowledge the shared pain of those left behind.

“It’s become important for us to be a part of all the circles and places that are addressing peace and a solution to violence in our community,’’ Odom said. “We are here today to honor Steven’s memory. We want to carry on his voice.’’

Odom said that though it is a bittersweet occasion for her, she believes the march is a source of comfort from the heartache and loss.

“The scripture says ‘beauty for ashes,’ ’’ Odom said. “Ashes represent the devastation. Even in death and devastation, there can be hope, and that hope is the beauty.’’

Stewart Bishop can be reached at stewartbishop5@gmail.com