Merlene Davis: S.W.A.G. helps members deal with loss, work with community on ways to avoid gun violence

Tonya Lindsey, left, and Karen Taylor are members of Sisters and Supporters Working Against Gun Violence (S.W.A.G.) Lindsey is founder and president. Photo by Merlene Davis
Tonya Lindsey, left, and Karen Taylor are members of Sisters and Supporters Working Against Gun Violence (S.W.A.G.) Lindsey is founder and president. Photo by Merlene Davis

Sometimes the five women manage to suppress, until they are behind closed doors, the rush of tears caused by unexpected reminders of their grief.

Other times, like on April 16, tears may flow unchecked all day long as they did for Tammy Adams.

Her son, Jaleel Raglin, was killed in September 2012, and on Thursday she simply could not remember how he walked.

"That bothered me," she said. "As a mother, I could not remember. It is not fair that you have to deal with stuff like that."

Adams survived a very bad day because she knew she had a meeting that evening with four women who could and would comfort her and shore up her weak moments with their strength.

"These emotions come from out of nowhere," Adams said. "One day you can be perfectly fine, and then just be a mess the next day. The grieving process never stops."

Adams is one of five mothers who are members of Sisters and Supporters Working Against Gun Violence, or S.W.A.G. All the women lost children to gun violence in Lexington between 2011 and 2013.

The group hosts events such as lock-ins for youth to talk about the senselessness of violence, and they hold meetings every other Monday to offer support to one another. About once a month, they meet with a counselor, Daniel A. Lee, president and CEO of Counseling Association of Lexington, who donates his time.

S.W.A.G. was founded by Tonya Lindsey a couple of months after her son Ezavion Lindsey was killed in July 2013. She wanted to stop what seemed to be an increasingly accepted situation: young people dying needlessly.

She met with other grieving mothers and they all decided to take action. The group was founded on Sept. 10, 2013, and has been active ever since.

"We have five mothers who are victims of gun violence and several supporters, too many to count," said Lindsey, S.W.A.G president. "We are predominantly female, but we have males who volunteer.

"We stayed together because all the mothers and the people involved are passionate about this. If we don't do something, we will keep losing our kids."

And if they don't stay together, some of the mothers might find it difficult to cope.

For example, on April 16, the second anniversary of the death of her son, Steven Reynolds Jr., LaTosha Reynolds tried unsuccessfully to push everyone away and grieve alone.

"It was my day," she said. "On your day, sometimes you want to be by yourself. I didn't want to celebrate, didn't want to be around anyone else. I ran, but they kept finding me."

When Lindsey heard Reynolds, the group's vice president, was closeted away, she went to Reynolds' home, banged on the door and demanded entry.

Lindsey instinctively knew, it was not a good time for her friend to be alone.

"We have a great, great sisterhood," Reynolds said a day later, after thanking Lindsey for her persistence. "Together we are the most powerful, the strongest women I have ever met. Everyone picks up where the other leaves off. We all share and care."

Karen Taylor, who joined the group about a year ago, hesitated to venture out of her home for two years after her daughter, Tommisha Taylor, a student at the Art Institute of Ohio — Cincinnati, was gunned down on Memorial Day in 2011, soon after she dropped in for a holiday visit.

Taylor said she has learned, with the help and support of the other mothers, to let it out when the pain comes. Sometimes that occurs as she walks her dog past the apartment where her daughter was killed.

"I used to hold it in," she said, "but it gave me headaches and I would get sick. Now I stand in the middle of the street and scream. Late at night, I sometimes can't watch TV. She just pops in my head.

"This is my life now," she said, "until I see her again."

But the women aren't just about helping one another through their grief. They also have fun and find ways to get the attention of the community so no other mothers will endure what they have.

April 19-25 is National Crime Victim Rights Week. As part of that observance, the group sponsored two billboards along New Circle Road between Winchester Road and Floyd Drive, with pictures of their deceased children as a reminder of the toll exacted by gun violence.

Also, S.W.A.G. and the Antonio Franklin Jr., Violence Intervention Project (VIP) are hosting separate community events to highlight the week.

VIP, founded by Anita Franklin, whose son, Antonio, was killed in Duncan Park in April last year, is hosting a CommUnity Resource Fair in the park April 25, 3 to 6 p.m. The fair will feature information about summer programs for youth, support groups for single parents, and an opportunity to meet with representatives of Jubilee Jobs to find employment.

One area of the park will have a boxing-type ring set up called Knockout Violence, in which young people can give their ideas about how to stop the violence. There will also be other resource booths on hand as well as information about the start of this year's We Care Peace Walks on June 13.

S.W.A.G. is hosting a community event in Castlewood Park that will feature information about "Lil S.W.A.G. Grief Counseling," a program conducted by The Nest, Center for Women, Children, and Families tailored to the siblings of victims of violence. Also, representatives from Kentuckians' Voice for Crime Victims, a non-profit advocacy and support organization for grieving families, and the Louisville Metro Police Department's Homicide Support Group will discuss their programs and the resources they offer.

There will be food, music, games and crafts for the children as well. That event will also be April 25, from noon until 4 p.m.

"We have learned as victims that there are not a lot of resources available," Lindsey said. "Now with the five of us, we have found a lot more. We want to help the victims find resources."

To help, mail contributions to any PNC Bank, payable to S.W.A.G.

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