"I'm strong, but I hurt."

Akim and Ultra Humphries with son Darnell Byrd, Jr.

Oakland, December 2014 - For the second straight year the number of homicides in Oakland will have declined. That is great news. Still, the city will have suffered over 80 killings, and nearly 300 in the past 3 years. The plight, the journey of the families of the city's homicide victims continues to be a dire one. 

A year after the murder of Darnell Byrd, Jr., his mother, Ultra Humphries, sits in the front room in her house in East Oakland, in the room where Darnell slept, talking about him, about his hopes and dreams, about his ongoing presence in her life. Darnell wanted to be a barber. He had plans to change his own look, to look more professional, more buttoned-down. At the age of 24, he was getting serious, he was growing up. Mother and son were scheduled to go shopping for new clothes the day his body was found, at 6 a.m., with a bullet in his head, on 78th Avenue.

Ultra has turned Darnell's room into a peaceful sitting room. Warm sunlight filters through the curtains of blue and brown. There are two comfortable couches and a corner shrine to the memory of her only son. Her husband, Akim, sits at her side. They are young, barely 40, a strikingly handsome couple. Out in the world they will catch your eye. But if you watch them long enough you will see in the hard, sober set of their faces the weight of this loss. Ultra is determined for people to know what happened, what is happening in Oakland, and how the families of the killed, especially the mothers, suffer.

"I'm strong," she says. "But I hurt." In her journey through grief and pain, to forgiveness, and in her search for healing and justice, Ultra has gotten invaluable help from her church. Her faith has kept her intact, she tells me. "Because I have God, it's why I haven't gone crazy."

And in Marilyn Washington Harris and the Khadafy Washington Foundation for Non-Violence, she has found a kindred soul as well as a source of ongoing strength and healing. Since her own young son was murdered in Oakland in 2000, Harris has been stepping into the lives of survivors, often right at the crime scene, or at their homes in the first days after a killing. She guides them through the business at hand, serves as their eyes and brains when their own eyes and brains refuse to function or believe. She helps them begin their long journey back to life. In fourteen years, on a shoestring budget, Harris has brought help, hope and healing to thousands of Oaklanders as they began this toughest, bitterest journey of their lives.

Among the many services she provides, Harris leads a monthly grief group for parents of the killed. There, Ultra could begin to tell her story.

"The group," says Ultra, "it makes me feel comfortable to speak about my situation, because others are going through the same thing that I'm going through. So they understand. And when they tell their stories, I'm able to identify what I'm going through, because even though they may have lost their son five years ago, ten years ago, they still lost their son, and they're able to tell me how it's gonna be."

It sounds strange, but sometimes her own strength frustrates her. "I don't want to wear it," she tells me," but she does want people to know both that she has a painful story and that she is enduring. "I want them to know, even though I've been through the death of my son, you are still able to make it, you can do it. and that's what Marilyn has given me strength to do."

One year later, of course Darnell remains a force in her daily life, even as she misses the little things, the mom-things. "I can't tell him to take the garbage out, tell him to go to the store for me."

She speaks to him still, sometimes just to ask, in exasperation, why he wouldn't listen to her. "Why didn't you just stay home, why did you always have to go out. Why didn't you just listen. I told him not to go in that area. Not to go around there. That's not a good area for him to be in."

And then there are the times when she hears his voice, when Darnell speaks to her. "I just keep hearing him telling me 'Moms, it's gonna be okay.'"

When her inclination was to save the insurance money, Darnell gave her advice. Mom, you need to use that money, that's what I gave it to you for. She used it to create this peaceful room we are sitting in today, this room in which Darnell is a presence in photographs and in spirit.

The grief still comes, sometimes very suddenly. "I will be in the bathroom putting on my makeup and suddenly have a spurt of crying," says Ultra.

She says she wants to have a quiet day on the anniversary of his death, a visit to his niche at the cemetery and a day of family togetherness. They'll have a bigger event to mark what would have been his 26th birthday in January.

More and more, others who have lost a son or daughter have begun turning to Ultra for advice and she says that actually has helped her heal.

"Helping others helps me," she tells me. "I'm a fighter, I go, I have to keep moving, and that's what makes me thrive. I want to be like Marilyn Harris, to be able to motivate and inspire people."

If Marilyn is to continue to serve Oakland's living victims of homicide, if she is to continue to serve Oakland, she needs your help. Learn more about Marilyn's work with survivors in the immediate aftermath of a homicide, and her ongoing care for them, below. And please consider donating to the Khadafy Washington Foundation for Non-Violence.

Read more about Marilyn and her work

A Plight and a Plea -
for Oakland

Just 3 weeks into January of 2014, 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.

If Marilyn is to continue to serve Oakland's living victims of homicide, if she is to continue to serve Oakland, she needs your help. Learn more about Marilyn's work with survivors in the immediate aftermath of a homicide, and her ongoing care for them, below. And please consider donating to the Khadafy Washington Foundation for Non-Violence or, better yet, attend our Annual Benefit Reception, March 6, 2014, at 6:00 p.m. at Everett & Jones, Jack London Square. We'll be celebrating the work of actor, comedian, radio host and founder of the LoveLife Foundation, Donald Lacy.

August 4th brings a sad anniversary, 

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.

Use this web site to learn more about our programs and our history, or to make a donation.