After her own tragic loss, Lorrain Taylor charts a path for mothers who have lost children to gun violence
on December 8, 2015
Lorrain Taylor walks across the street at a steady pace as she pulls the roller bag that serves as her mobile office. Her cellphone rings.
“Hello, is this Antoinette calling? How are you doing? I am in Oakland today and was checking to see if you would like a home visit this afternoon?” Taylor says in her soft voice. Taylor gets calls such as this every day. On the other end of the line are mothers who all have one thing in common: They have lost a child or children to homicide.
Taylor is also one of those mothers; she lost her sons, Obadiah and Albade, almost 15 years ago. The 22-year-old fraternal twins, were fatally shot on February 8, 2000, while working on Albade’s Cadillac in East Oakland. Obadiah had been working as an apprentice at Sculptor’s Barber Shop in Hayward after completing a local barber’s training program. Albade was working for a law firm in Berkeley as a supervisor, and at night he worked part-time with UPS. He was studying at Merritt College to complete a double major in accounting and business.
The case went unsolved for several years. Taylor only recently learned that the cause of her sons’ murder was the resentment of a man later identified as a serial killer who apparently felt slighted in an argument with Obadiah the previous evening.
After the death of her sons, Taylor went to into shock. She could never have imagined such a tragic loss. The day of her sons’ funeral, she said, she did everything she could to hold herself together. “I remember just sitting there. I did get up and sing at the service because I wanted the murderer to know that I was going to get through this,” said Taylor.
At the time, she was working as a social worker for Tri City Health Center, in Fremont, California. She buried herself in her job, taking on multiple clients at a time to avoid dealing with the emotional pain. “I would tell myself every morning, ‘Lorrain, work hard. You don’t have to think about this.’ One year later, I walked into team meeting and I passed out,” Taylor recalled. “I had worked myself to exhaustion. My doctor took me off work in 2001 and I was forced now to grieve.”
But a few years later, in 2006, Taylor found herself on the brink of a nervous breakdown with her depression. She recalls lying on her sofa at her home in Dublin, California, as she imagined all the other mothers who also had lost a child to a similar tragedy. “I could envision these women who were grieving alone and I decided I was going to see about these mothers. I thought I was so strong and I could handle this, but I could not. I wanted to circumvent their suffering and ease it in some way,” said Taylor.
Taylor went to Trader Joe’s and asked for any groceries that were marked for donation. She told the store manager she was going to take this food and deliver it to mothers who had lost their children, so they did not have a breakdown like she did. Taylor knew many mothers who were grieving may not be able to get out of bed, she wanted to provide the practical help of a good meal.
“He said come back next Wednesday. They gave me their spoils, and Sears gave me a freezer to keep the meat frozen. I went through to make sure things were not expired, and I went knocking on doors. I found other mothers trying to drink away the pain. One woman was even contemplating suicide,” said Taylor. “I went to support these women and on many occasions they supported me.”
In 2006, Taylor founded 1,000 Mothers to Prevent Violence as an organization to provide practical support to families who have lost someone to homicide. “Someone one day asked me: ‘What is it that you do?’” said Taylor. “It is not an ‘it.’ It all depends on the family’s needs. I have worked with some of my families for six years; they are my family. I went along with one mother who got interviewed by the OPD, I helped her plan the funeral, and I helped her get her services from the state. The work is ongoing. I do not have any other life but 1,000 Mothers and my church. So I go, I try and go to bed early.”
Today, she offers peer support over the telephone and arranges home visits to assess the needs of the whole family. She also arranges a COPE grief and education group that meets twice per month, which is a way to invite mothers together and begin a conversation to encourage them to work toward closure. “When I let a mother know we are in the same boat, so to speak, they are more open to letting me in on their pain. What I have learned is the best type of support is to lend them your ear and your heart. You basically just listen to them,” said Taylor.
Taylor and her organization have become an essential part of Oakland’s community that works to combat gun violence. She attends events all across the Bay Area spreading the word of the help she provides, informing others about the effects of homicides in the community. Taylor has received numerous awards and honors as a community activist and organizer. She attends conferences with the FBI, as well as a variety of resource fairs, and meets with the Oakland Police Department. In 2000, following the death of her sons, Taylor was the keynote speaker and leader of the Million Mom March in Oakland, which drew over 7,000 marchers in order to promote tighter gun control.
Her long-term goal for 1,000 Mothers to Prevent Violence is to develop a “one stop shop” trauma recovery center for victim survivors in the City of Oakland, which will be free of charge to families affected by gun violence. Taylor has a vision of what she hopes to make a reality, but currently she is working on finding a physical location for 1,000 Mothers to be based out of first.
One of the mothers that Taylor has helped counsel is Shantee Baker, who lives in Berkeley and teaches physical education in Oakland. Baker lost her 26-year-old daughter, Jessica, in 2012.
Baker raised Jessica along with six other siblings in a blended family. She was a ballet dancer and the family lived an artistic lifestyle, more concerned with expressing themselves through art then making money. Jessica was known for her toothy smile and her warm demeanor, her mother recalled.
The night of December 18, 2012, Jessica left her mother’s house in Berkeley to meet up with a male friend and her boyfriend at the time on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley. Later that evening the male friend, later identified as Jamaal Prince, attempted to rape Jessica and in the process stabbed her to death.
Once Baker learned of her daughter’s death two days later, she had the difficult task of calling family and friends to inform them of the loss. For a period of time, Baker could not stand to be in her home in Berkeley, so she rented a place by the Richmond Marina where she and her youngest daughter, Angelica, could get some peace back in their lives.
It took some months for Baker to slowly begin to pick up her life. Baker turned to the police department who pointed her to Lorain Taylor, founder of 1,000 Mothers to Prevent Violence, for a support network. “I love the police, I think they are fantastic. One day I told one of the officers I was horribly depressed from the loss of my daughter, and he gave me the number for Ms. Taylor,” said Baker. “I gave her a call, we met, and we spoke for three hours.”
She calls Taylor “an angel in the flesh.”
“There are many other great organizations out there, but Lorrain has been the most accessible for me,” said Baker. “It has been helpful for me to not feel alone.”
Taylor selected Baker to be honored as “Mother of the Year” last year and to serve as secretary for 1,000 Mothers, a role that entrusts Baker with “just doing whatever you can” to help with organizing events.
Lorrain Taylor’s work has resonated across Oakland, where the homicide rate is higher than any other city in the Bay Area, with over 85 homicides this year alone according to the Oakland Police. The Oakland Police Department refers many families who have experienced homicide to seek out Ms. Lorrain. “1,000 Mothers to Prevent Violence is a remarkable organization doing necessary work, led by an amazing woman,” said police spokesperson Officer Johnna Watson in a prepared statement.
Barbara McGee, one of the facilitators for 1,000 Mothers, worked with her church in West Oakland and Taylor to allow a COPE session to be held there twice a month. The group sessions are meant to provide a safe space for the mothers to talk about how they are grieving and to find support among those in similar situations.
“Lorrain has been able to create a program for people who have this tragedy and this unspeakable pain to have a place where they can garner the support of people in the community,” said McGee. “I have seen the OPD homicide detectives be part of the circle, the former police of chief speak to the mothers. There have been psychologists who have offered counseling, and of course community members who are just concerned for their neighbors.”
McGee notes that after being present at many COPE sessions, she finds that the stories told are not only powerful, but provide a window into a tragedy that not many people understand unless it happens to them. “When you see these heartbreaking stories on the news it is something else,” she said. “But to be sitting two feet from these mothers and hear them talk—or not hear them talk at all. It is something else when you sit next to a mother who cannot even utter a word.”
Tameka Rothshild, lost her fiancé Daryl Harris in 2000 and her 20-year-old son Derryck Prince Eugene in 2014 to gun violence. Derryck, her eldest son, was shot in his car blocks from their home in East Oakland. Derryck’s death came three days after a neighbor’s son was also murdered. Derryck’s murder remains unsolved.
Rothschild says Dinyal “Tracey” New, the mother of Lee Weathersby, a 13-year old who also died that year, was a family friend. Derryck was friend’s with Lee’s older brother and both boys would spend many afternoons with Rothschild while their mother was at work. “Tracey and I came together and we went to the COPE meeting with Ms. Lorrain,” Rothschild said. “I had never met Ms. Lorrain, but I know I needed to talk to someone. My heart was heavy and I had not a clue what to do.”
Taylor offered both women food, a smile and reassurance that they would be okay and make it through—even if they could not believe it at the time.
“When I lost my son, it was like a rib was taken from me. I was stripped. The first meeting I attended, it was only Tracey and myself. But I knew I was in the right place,” said Rothshild. “I told Ms. Lorrain it felt like my son was left out, and she said to not think like that, but to count your blessings.”
What stood out for Rothshild about 1,000 Mothers is Taylor, and the way she shared her own experience. “She went through the same thing and is helping other people,” she said. “She did not burden us with her loss. Rather, she embraced me with my loss.”
This December, Taylor will host her 8th annual Purple Gala, an evening that is meant to invite families and friends of homicide victims to come together for remembrance and healing. This year’s keynote speakers are Libby Shaaf and Oakland Police Chief Sean Whent. Since 1,000 Mothers was founded, Taylor has organized this event, she sends out letters through the police department to every family who lost some to a homicide that year for a free admission.
Rothshild will be honored at the event on December 11 as “Survivor of the Year.” “This award means a lot; to be a ‘survivor,’ it means I am stronger than I think I am. It means someone else can see my strength, and to stand up and help others that is who Ms. Lorrain is.”
Click the audio profiles below the photographs to learn more about each of the mothers in this story.
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