A Plight and a Plea -for Oakland
March, 2014. Just 3 weeks into January Oakland already had 8 homcides. Among the dead of the young year, 13-year-old and 19-year-old brothers, another 19 year-old man, and a 17-year old girl. Now it is March and at least 20 have been killed here. As usual, Marilyn Washington Harris is too busy helping the families of the killed to raise funds for the non-violence foundation she works through.
Our work is about the plight of survivors, about what
they need in the crushing, insane days after a husband or son or
daughter or mother has died violently in Oakland. They need
attention, love, clarity, guidance, information and a knowing ear.
They need protection from exploitation, they need a friend, an
advocate. When these sudden, dire needs go unmet, things go from bad
to worse, and the long dark path back to life, work, family, back to
the community, gets far longer and far darker, even endless. The city
loses not just that person who was killed, but also it loses the survivors in their lasting grief and unhealed bitterness.
Marilyn Harris has been helping survivors through the muck for 12 years now, pretty much ever since she became one herself, when her only son, Khadafy Washington, was murdered in Oakland in 2000, and there was no one to guide her. She gets some funding from the city, a small amount. She gets help from the venerable Oakland non-profit Youth Alive. But hers is now and always has been a nearly solitary shoestring operation out of donated space with out-dated equipment in the Acorn.
but Khadafy's spirit lives on
Sunday August 4th, 2013 marks the 13th anniversary of the shooting death of Khadafy Washington on the campus of McClymonds High School in West Oakland. Khadafy was 18. He had graduated just two months earlier. He was riding his bike that night. He died quickly, but his family's pain and struggle were only just beginning.
Thirteen years later Khadafy's mom, Marilyn Washington Harris, and the Khadafy Washington Foundation for Non-Violence continue to support thousands of survivors of the well-over 1500 people killed in Oakland since that fateful night in 2000.
Miss Marilyn started by conceiving billboards, 19 of them, which were distributed about the city, with Khadafy's picture and the blaring question: Do You Know Who Killed Me? They were a stark reminder to a city sometimes in denial that too many of its young men were dying violent deaths. Soon she was organizing marches to bring attention to Oakland's problem with violence, and to the lasting pain families of victims endure. Privately, she would reach out to individual families in the immediate aftermath of a homicide, sending them mementos and reminders that they were not forgotten.
Then she began seeking them out at their homes, the hospital, even at crime scenes, taking them by the hand to guide them through the craziness that descends on a family in the days and weeks after a loved-one's sudden, violent death. She protected them from exploitation, scraped up funds for the mostly poor families so that they could bury their dead with dignity and grace, and continued to counsel and care for them as they tried to get back to life. Today, as the violence persists, Khadafy's mom is Oakland's primary crisis responder.
Through the life and growth of the foundation named in his memory, we like to think that Khadafy still lives and grows, and that it's his spirit reaching out to the survivors of Oakland's killed, those living victims of homicide, that it is Khadafy's spirit helping them begin the long process of healing, of finding some kind of peace and love in their lives and their city. Thirteen years after his death, his spirit is alive and well and fighting for Oakland.
"I was devastated. He was a good kid. He did all the things a parent would want a child to do."
-- Marilyn Washington Harris
If your friend or family member was recently killed, please call us at (510) 839-1706 so we can assist you through this difficult time.