Victims of violence were remembered at a Light up the Night vigil on the lawn of the old Horry County Courthouse in Conway on Friday night.
And toys were collected for children left grieving and missing them this Christmas and forever.
Gwen Reed. founder of Ebony’s Hope and the Survivor’s Engagment Leader of Everytown Gun Safety, is a Myrtle Beach resident who organized the event.
Reed founded Ebony’s Hope after her sister, Ebony Spann-Parson, was shot and killed at a bingo hall in Conway in 2013 by her estranged boyfriend, who burst in with a shotgun and killed her and himself. Reed also lost her father to gun violence when she was 11.
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“Gun violence robbed me of my childhood and shattered my adulthood,” she said, adding that pastors and others were asked to come together and pray and to promote gun safety and the closing of loopholes in the gun laws, such as the one that allowed Dylan Roof to get a gun and kill nine people at a Charleston church.
By promoting gun safety, she said she thinks that gun violence can be reduced.
This is the fifth year that S.C. Mothers Against Violence has led a drive to get Christmas gifts for children of victims.
“We started because so many kids in our neighborhood had lost parents to violence,” said Rev, Elizabeth Bowens, president of the group that is mostly made up of mothers who have lost their children to violence.
But you don’t have to have lost a child to join.
“We need support,” said Bowens, who lost her son in 2005.
She said that when S.C. Mothers Against Violence started the Christmas project, it provided gifts for 25 children. Five years later, it is providing for 75 to 100 children.
She and other mothers who lost their children said they want to send a message to all mothers – because they never want anyone else to have to feel the pain that they feel. For most of them, it began with a phone call.
“I would tell the mothers to search their homes and get those guns out of there, because that’s where they are,” Bowens said.
“Once that bullet leaves the chamber, you don’t know where it’s going,” she said.
Kendra Keel, who lost two sons to gun violence, said that if she could stop one child from walking down the wrong side of the road, or tell one child that life is worth living, her sons, John Graham and Irving Graham, will not have died in vain.
The pain never really ends, she said.
“Some days I’m good. Some days, it’s like it just happened,” she said, adding that her sons left three grandchildren they never saw, and those grands help keep her going.
Shirl Brockington’s daughter, Africia Brockington, was killed in 2012 by a random shot outside of a club. Shirl said she has a 16-year-old son and she is constantly talking to him about guns and violence.
“Those phone calls changed our lives,” she said. “We don’t want them (other mothers) to feel the lasting aching pain tugging at their hearts.”
The mothers said that doing something for someone else, such as collecting and distributing toys for the children of victims of violence, helps them deal with the pain of losing their children.
“God brought us together through the loss of our children,” Bowens said. “It helps us as mothers who have lost our children to help other people and to stay active.”
They support each other, and they are available to support other mothers, children or families who lose someone to violence.
Donations for the children may be taken to the Mary C. Canty Recreation Center, 971 Canal Street, Myrtle Beach. For information about S.C. Mothers Against Violence, call Bowens at 843-685- 3212.