Moms of Grand Rapids victims aim to curb violence

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Large posters showcased the faces of homicide victims at a busy southeast Grand Rapids intersection Monday evening.

The group known as Moms on a Mission hosted the display with hopes of slowing the rate of homicides in Grand Rapids, which is on pace to top annual numbers in recent history.

“It’s such a hurt,” said Jacqueline Kelley, who lost two sons to homicide in recent years. “You just learn to live with it. … You have to.”

Monday’s display was set up on Kalamazoo Avenue near the Hall Street intersection. Organizers say the placement and timing of the event was strategic. Organizer Elijah Libbett, a local business owner who helped found the group, said the event was held there because of the proximity to recent homicide scenes. He said the group hopes to make an impact before the summer months when violent crime tends to increase.

He hopes someone who might be considering committing such an act will be touched by the posters.

“I hope it pierces their hearts,” Libbett said. “Life is precious.”

Jane Bockheim-Kelley’s son Michael Bockheim was killed in 2012 at the age of 28. His photo was among those featured in the display.

“Just missing him so much,” Bockheim-Kelley said tearfully as she talked about life since losing her son. “Something I’ll never get over.”

She spoke as another group member, Tonya Wilkins, stood behind her in support. Wilkins’ son, Julius Vinson III, was killed in 2017.

“I can’t even describe the pain you feel,” Wilkins said. “It’s indescribable.”

She said she hoped passersby who saw her son’s photo would be touched.

“I hope some young man or some young woman would see the message,” Wilkins said. “I would hope that it would jog their mind and cause them to just think.”

Among those participating in the event was Kent County Commissioner Robert Womack, who represents District 17, which encompasses part of Grand Rapids’ southeast side.

Womack, an activist who advocates for issues impacting the black community, said the fact that all of the homicide victims so far in 2019 are black isn’t lost on him.

“I know we have lead issues, we have issues with the police department, but when it comes to this black-on-black crime, this has to be one of the No. 1 issues,” Womack said. “We’re trying to make sure that no other families have to go through (a homicide) this summer.”

The city of Grand Rapids of preparing to host an event that will gather ideas aimed at preventing violence and provide them the funding they need to take off.

The city will host the SAFE Pitch and Highlight night on June 25 at the Grand Rapids Public Schools Administration building, 1331 Franklin St. SE. The event will take place from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. A panel will hear participants’ ideas and award more than $50,000 in funding to the winners.

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