Mass. officials honor survivors of violence, promote prevention

“Violence does not define us. Community defines us,” said Gov. Deval Patrick on Monday at the 11th annual Survivors of Homicide Victims Awareness Month commencement.

Patrick, who received the Survivor of Homicide Victims Advocate of the Year Award with Mayor Thomas Menino, addressed about 70 people at the foot of the Grand Staircase in the Massachusetts State House to kick-start the month, which runs from Nov. 20 to Dec. 20.

Boston communities affected by violence must come together to work on prevention for the future, Patrick said.

City and state leaders spoke in support of violence prevention, sponsored by the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute. Brown was a 15-year-old who was murdered in Dorchester in 1993.

The survivors of homicide victims are the strongest people in the Commonwealth, Patrick said.

While addressing community involvement, Patrick said it takes more than the “sloganeering” that is going on about public safety.

“Coming together is not enough in time of loss alone,” he said. “It also means coming together to work on prevention and healing.”

Boston City Councilor At-Large Ayanna Pressley followed with a speech on the importance of engaging victims and survivors as stakeholders to violence prevention.

Pressley said that it is a “moral imperative to make sure that people feel safe.”

Attendees such as Sharell “BayHolla” Jacobs, whose niece was shot and killed in Roxbury earlier this year said that becoming involved with more community activities and meeting with other survivors helped her get rid of the hatred she felt after losing her niece.

The experience, she said, was very tragic because it was the first time her family had lost anyone to violence.

As part of the program’s survivor tribute, Jacobs, who is also a spoken-word artist, recited an original poem to the crowd called “One Voice,” which addressed each of the LBD Peace Institute’s seven principles.

“Survivors really don’t get a chance to be heard,” Jacobs said in an interview. “And by me having a voice and being an artist here, as well as being a survivor . . . I thought there [were] things that needed to be said.”

Jacobs said it is important to rehabilitate criminals to limit violence.

“Don’t just put them on probation and send them out,” she said. “Get them resources and tools and essentials so that they can recognize the negative in themselves and change that into a positive.”

Survivor and speaker Milton Jones said in an interview that he must “embrace forgiveness” in order to truly heal.

“The capacity to love carries with it the ability to forgive,” Jones said.

Clementia Chery, Brown’s mother, said during an interview that hosting the Survivors of Homicide Victims Awareness Month kick-off at the State House was an honor.

“The experience was beyond my expectations,” Chery said. “We did it. To have the governor, to have the attorney general, to have the elected officials . . . it’s bridging that connection [with the citizens].”

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