MJE and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh recognize six courageous community members

 The Spirit of Boston

The Spirit of Boston

Recently, over the summer of 2018, I had the pleasure of interviewing six honorees of Mothers for Justice and Equality (MJE) before they receieved their Courage and Conviction awards, honors given to those who have stood firm in the presence of tragedy and gone on to do extraordinary, inspiring things. Awards were given by MJE President Monalisa Smith aboard The Spirit of Boston ship on a clear, warm summer night that included dinner and dancing. To say that it was an honor to meet these people — most interviews were in person while others took place over the phone and email — is an understatement. Learning about their inspiring work brought me to tears at times. Boston Mayor Marty Walsh recognized the honorees in our press releases: “This year's award winners represent the impact one individual can have in creating a profound and positive change within their communities,” said Walsh. “The Courage and Conviction Award recipients have gone above and beyond, selflessly working to better their neighborhoods. I applaud them for their efforts, and thank Mothers for Justice and Equality for recognizing these individuals for their important contributions to our city.”

 Photo courtesy of MJE. From L to R are: Smith, Galloway, Gibbs, Morris, Colon, Meeks and LePenn

Photo courtesy of MJE. From L to R are: Smith, Galloway, Gibbs, Morris, Colon, Meeks and LePenn

Press releases were created in partnership with MJE in the spirit of The Good News Experiment, our joint initiative that shares stories of individuals’ extraordinary community work. Sections of the press releases on these honorees, including quotes from these award winners, appear below:

Roxbury resident Charmise Galloway, an advocate for local youth and restorative justice

Galloway said that in 2004, she lost her 14-year-old son, a handsome, rising star in many Boston basketball leagues who loved singing, dancing, family and friends, to gun violence on Boston streets over his favorite basketball hat. After what Galloway described as nine years of deep mourning, she actively dedicates her life today to speaking to local youth and helping them envision positive paths in her son’s honor.

“I feel his wings all over me,” said Galloway, who also works to seek restorative justice solutions after violence takes place. “There has to be different solution instead of just locking the door and not giving them different resources so they can do better.”

The wings described by Galloway have propelled her to serve local neighborhoods in an extraordinarily active way. Her service includes mentoring youth at Boston Arts Academy and Margarita Muniz Academy; receiving trauma and awareness training from the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute; speaking about restorative justice to people in Walpole Prison; and advocating for youth at Dorchester Court. In addition, Galloway is featured in “Circle Up,” an award-winning documentary film, with other mothers who are working with young people to end gun violence after losing their sons. Galloway, who has been involved with the Stop Handgun Violence movement and gun law reform efforts, has participated in the MLK March, Million Woman’s March, Mother’s Day Peace Walk and Mothers for Justice and Equality’s 2017 Conference, to name a few events.

“Charmise is an extraordinary example of the untold story of the powerful work that comes from mothers after losing someone so precious,” said Monalisa Smith, Founder and President of Mother’s for Justice and Equality. “MJE is honored to name Charmise a recipient of the 2018 Courage and Conviction Award for her commitment to preventing gun violence and seeking restorative justice when it has occurred.”

 Charmise Galloway

Charmise Galloway

As part of this recognition, Galloway joined three other Courage and Conviction awardees, two Community Excellence awardees and approximately 200 guests aboard the Spirit of Boston on June 9, 2018 for dining, dancing and celebration. The event is a catalyst for the annual Mother’s Against Violence National Leadership Conference that is held every fall in Boston.

Galloway said that when she began working with youth at a school in Jamaica Plain three years ago, there were only about eight students who came to the sessions because of the cupcakes, juice boxes and other snacks that she brought, until a shift happened. Galloway said that when she brought in a box that had been put together by Boston Medical Center staff containing treasured items including her son’s hand prints, hairbrush and some hair clippings, the students paid attention.

“They began to say, ‘How strong are you, and we’re out here in the streets doing silly stuff and we could either end up like your son or in jail,’” she said.

The group began to grow, and over the course of the past few years, Galloway said she has been proud to see so many of the students graduate from high school and stay on positive paths. Galloway said her strategy involves some very specific advice; words she has also given at other schools, in Walpole Prison and at Dorchester Court, where she once asked a judge to have the teenager who was appearing there for robbery accusations wear an ankle bracelet that imposed a curfew instead of being placed in the Department of Youth Services system since he had a job and needed to focus on positive paths off of the streets, she said. Galloway said that she succeeded in her advocacy.

“The first thing that hurt me when youth started speaking to me was that the thing they were thinking about the most is that they’re either going to die or go to jail,” Galloway said. “I tell them that they shouldn’t be thinking like that at 15 to 17 years old. You should really just be thinking about graduating high school, going to college, traveling outside of the country, meeting people, enjoying yourself or staying in the college dorm. I’d rather your mother or girlfriend bring lunch or dinner to your job or your school instead of doing what we do, which is carrying pictures around or visiting our sons at the grave — or like too many others — going to visit their sons in prison. And as much as you love the streets, the streets literally don’t love you back, they really don’t. Why live that life when you can live something else?”

In addition to finding strength from her son’s memory, Galloway said she has found strength from family including two daughters and women who have become her family — ladies who she calls “legacy sisters.” This group includes about 100 local women who have experienced similar loss and support each other with emails, texts, phone calls and gathering regularly. While they often say that they would’ve rather have met over different circumstances, Galloway said that they support each other on both the toughest days and the brightest days — the ones when they know they are making a difference.

“I know there is a saying, “Reach one, teach one, save one,’ but I’ve changed that saying to ‘Reach one, teach one, save them all,” said Galloway. “There are so many out there who want change, they just need that right person to be able to feel comfortable to open up.”

Dorchester residents Anthony Meeks, a City of Boston Street Worker for Boston Centers for Youth & Families, and Alvin Morris, a therapy mentor, outreach coordinator and football coach for local youth

 Photo courtesy of Anthony Meeks (right) with his parents just prior to receiving his Community Excellence Award from MJE aboard The Spirit of Boston.

Photo courtesy of Anthony Meeks (right) with his parents just prior to receiving his Community Excellence Award from MJE aboard The Spirit of Boston.

As a street worker for Boston Centers for Youth & Families’ Youth Services Department, Meeks works to help keep neighborhoods safe through participating in a youth violence prevention and early intervention program that has served as a best practice model throughout the nation. In this role, Meeks works to deescalate and mediate potentially violent conflicts between neighbor- hood gangs and high-risk individuals who contribute to neighborhood violence.

“As a Street Worker, I feel obligated and responsible to be there for those who are hurting, and provide a healing environment for those who have survived,” said Meeks. “Providing comfort, an open mind, humility and a listening ear are essential strategies for my work.”

Through the Street Worker Program, Meeks also helps youth and families gain access to a vari- ety of health and social services including education, recreation, diverse enrichment opportuni- ties, substance abuse treatment and tutoring. Food, clothing and shelter are also provided at community center sites around the City of Boston.

“Without my community partners, I would not be receiving this award,” said Meeks, who also said that during his youth, his mother instilled in him a drive to serve others. “I love our great city, the City of Boston. At the end of my work day, most times I lie in bed and feel able to say, ‘Job well done.’”

Morris, a 32-year-old who also plays football for the semi-professional Boston Bandits of the New England Football League, said he was raised in Dorchester by his mother, a woman who Morris said “worked 10 times harder than most” at being an exceptional single parent as she also held a position with the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) for 23 years.

“Mothers for Justice and Equality’s Community Excellence Award means a lot to me because growing up where I grew up, a lot of us didn’t have positive male role models,” Morris said. “I want to be a positive role model for these kids so that they see that you don’t have to go down negative paths to be a cool person, drive a nice car, look nice or be popular.”

 Alvin Morris boards The Spirit of Boston prior to receiving MJE’s Community Excellence Award

Alvin Morris boards The Spirit of Boston prior to receiving MJE’s Community Excellence Award

As a Therapy Mentor and Outreach Coordinator for the Mattapan Community Health Center, an organization that aims to improve health and enhance the quality of life by providing exceptional primary care, preventative health and social services in Mattapan and surrounding communities, Morris works with kids ages six to 21 years old with strength-based therapy, one-to-one mentoring and building behavioral, independent living and social skills, tools that Morris said have be- come especially relevant in today’s Digital Age.

Morris said that a critical first step to his work is breaking down walls between him and the youth he mentors by relating to them, describing that he was once their age, dressing like them and telling them stories of his youth. Once that relationship is built, Morris said progress begins to happen.

“I swear it’s the simplest — and most effective — work we do,” said Morris. “These kids just need someone to talk to.”

A team player on and off of the field, Morris said he wouldn’t be able to be so successful in his mentoring without a strong network of co-workers who are constantly sharing ideas and sup- porting each other. He said he has dreams to grow these type of networks within local communities.

“I would just say that we need more positive males out here working with these kids, especially these young men — the young women too — but we really need males out there showing these kids what you can be if you don’t want to be on the streets,” Morris said. “And even if you have been on the streets and you got locked up and you got out and you’re trying to do the right thing, show them that too. I have friends and family who got locked up and got out and are do- ing the right thing now. You have an opportunity to do better, and it’s on you to do better. I want kids to see that and know that. We can rise up do better and help out the next generation. I know that by mentoring and being a role model, I can effect kids 10 years from now. I know it might not happen next year or the year after that, but if I’m preaching to the right person, when that 10-year-old and that 12-year-old becomes 18,19 or 20, they’ll remember that they can be successful.”

Winthrop resident Ebony LePenn, a practitioner of Reiki and mindfulness healing for those who have experienced trauma

LePenn said that when she lost her husband — a man who had been her best friend for 20 years and the father of their two young children and LePenn’s step-daughter — to senseless violence two years ago, she found comfort in participating in a “Mastering Energy Awareness for Self Healing” workshop featuring sound healing, a relaxing technique that has been used by various cultures for thousands of years that is said to shift the brainwave state through use of sound.

“The workshop helped me stop being so angry, hurt and sad all of the time,” said LePenn. “No one wants to feel like that all of the time, no matter how appropriate the feelings are. It helped me so much, so I went to the workshop every week like going to church. Seven months later, I realized I want to do this for people. I want to relieve the stress.”

 Ebony LePenn

Ebony LePenn

Today, LePenn does just that through an initiative she has created in her husband’s name, The Anthony P. Clay Healing Project, “Where Trauma meets Wholistic Healing.” LePenn has con- ducted wholistic healing, sound healing and guided mindfulness workshop for groups of up to 50 people at events for organizations including Peace Institute and We Are Better Together Project, organizations created by Boston mothers who lost sons to gun violence to empower mothers on both sides of gun violence through the peacemaking process. LePenn, who is also a Reiki prac- titioner and a licensed massage therapist, often conducts the workshops with use of a “singing bowl,” or quartz crystal bowl. She said that goals for her participants range from helping some- one relax to providing education about the human energetic field and self care tools for use in dealing with unresolved traumas — tragedies that may have happened recently or during a par- ticipant’s childhood.

“Ebony is an extraordinary example of the untold story of the powerful work that comes from women after losing someone so precious,” said Monalisa Smith, Founder and President of Mother’s for Justice and Equality. “MJE is honored to name Ebony a recipient of the 2018 Courage and Conviction Award for her commitment to healing others through her mindfulness work.”

LePenn said she regularly offers workshops in Cambridge, MA for $10 or $20 donations at the Margaret Fuller Neighborhood House, a location that offers a variety of innovative holistic pro- grams for more than 4,000 people each year. She said she dreams of one day having a physical space dedicated to The Anthony P. Clay Healing Project’s work.

“I envision expanding into a non-profit organization that brings relief and healing holistically to all underserved community members who have been held captive by their traumas in silence for fear of death, imprisonment, or further isolation from people and whole communities in which they’ve known and grown up in all of their lives,” she said. “I would like to make The Anthony P. Clay Healing Project an actual safe space for trauma victims. We need more meditation instead of medication because it’s so helpful to heal the disconnection that exists within ourselves and our communities, and I feel we’ve sedated our traumas for far too long. I want to be a part of helping shift consciousness to create more peace, connection and community in our neighbor- hoods.”

For more information on The Anthony P. Clay Healing Project, please call Ebony LePenn at 781- 241-5804 or visit https://www.theanthonypclayhealingproject.org/. More information on her ses- sions at the Margaret Fuller Neighborhood House can be found here: http://meetu.ps/e/FgJG3/ ky5y0/a

Randolph resident Jennifer Colon, a patient access representative at Greater Roslindale Medical & Dental Community Center

 Photo courtesy of MJE of Jennifer Colon

Photo courtesy of MJE of Jennifer Colon

In the community, Colon has participated in caring, cooking, cleaning and making appointments for patients. She is also active in the community and has worked to enhance her street.

“Caring for the elderly population and assisting them in getting the best care possible brings me so much joy,” said Colon, whose outstanding commitment for helping others has followed the loss of a son to brain cancer.

“Jennifer is an extraordinary example of the untold story of the powerful work that comes from women after losing someone so precious,” said Monalisa Smith, Founder and President of Mother’s for Justice and Equality. “MJE is honored to name Jennifer a recipient of the 2018 Courage and Conviction Award for her commitment to healing others through her health work as well as her drive to enhance her neighborhood.”

Colon is a graduate of South Boston High School, Lincoln Tech and the Hearts Program.

Boston resident Jannie Gibbs, a retired health educator and outreach professional

In addition to her work over the years at Harvard Street Neighborhood Health Center, an organization providing world-class clinical care in a safe and compassionate patient-centered healing environment, she is an active member of her community. Gibbs, who has lost a son to senseless street violence, has been active with the Franklin Field Housing Association, Harvard School of Public Health, Health Center Moran Youth Program, The Peace Institute and Project Free, to name a few.

“Jannie is an extraordinary example of the untold story of the powerful work that comes from women after losing someone so precious,” said Monalisa Smith, Founder and President of Mother’s for Justice and Equality. “MJE is honored to name Jannie a recipient of the 2018 Courage and Conviction Award for her outstanding commitment to helping others.”

 Jannie Gibbs boards The Spirit of Boston before receiving MJE’s Courage and Conviction Award

Jannie Gibbs boards The Spirit of Boston before receiving MJE’s Courage and Conviction Award