Gregory Baldwin could be described as a “walking miracle,” after recovering from a gunshot wound years ago that led doctors to initially pronounce him dead. In fact, throughout the course of his life, he’s been shot 10 times and stabbed eight more – all before the age of 25.
Since then, Baldwin, 52, has organized an annual event to help mothers cope with the loss of their children who have died, or suffered severe injuries due to gun violence.
His nonprofit organization, Helping Hands, Inc., held its fifth annual Mother’s Day celebration Friday, May 5 at Malcolm X Elementary School located in the heart of Southeast, treating the mothers and guests to a three-course meal and live music and for a few hours, allowing them to relax.
“I feel for mothers who get that call,” said Baldwin, who added the event was inspired by his encounter with a mother who lost her son on Mother’s Day in 2012. “I want to uplift and make mothers smile.”
Lonise Bias had a special message for the mothers. Many readers undoubtedly recall that she’s the mother of the late Len Bias, the All-American college basketball forward at the University of Maryland and the second overall pick in the 1986 NBA draft, who died two days after being selected by the Boston Celtics from a cocaine overdose.
“Every day is Mother’s Day,” Bias said. “It is too late for our children. People are afraid of youth today. We must strengthen ourselves to meet the needs of our community today. Our young people, our families, are reachable, teachable, lovable and savable.”
She urged the mothers to join and support organizations that work to prevent violence, emphasizing the importance of mental health and adding that parents can help to stop perpetuating violence starting at home through positive reinforcement, rather than callous discipline.
The room was filled with women still dealing with the sudden death of a child, oftentimes with other children at home requiring their care. Additionally, these mothers face the everyday challenges of raising children in tough neighborhoods, like keeping food on the table, maintaining shelter and doing their best to keep them out of harm’s way.
Natalie Lucas, 49, who attended the event, said the hardest thing about raising her children in her Congress Heights neighborhood was making sure they both left the house and returned safely — a fear that was realized two years ago when her then-22-year-old daughter was shot.
“She is doing much better now,” Lucas said of her daughter.
But some others were not as fortunate.
According to data from the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD), in 2016 the District reported 5,759 instances of violent crime, which includes sexual assault, robbery, assault with a deadly weapon and homicide. Homicides peaked at 135. And with this year barely half over, there have been 1,507 instances of violent crime including 35 homicides.
A recent Community Preservation and Development Corporation survey of District dwellers revealed that Ward 8 residents are least likely of all city inhabitants to feel safe in the city, are most likely to have observed or experienced a violent crime and are least likely to trust police. Forty-five percent of the 1,706 firearms recovered in 2015, according to the MPD, came from Wards 7 and 8.
“I’m tired of all this killing,” said longtime Southeast resident Dianne Sledge, 69, who has lost several family members to violence — including two of her four sons at ages 19 and 36, and her grandson at the age of 19.
Sledge, who beat cancer twice, said the loss of her sons seemed unbearable, but she had to go on for the sake of her three other children.
“I couldn’t eat. I’d wake up, walk around and cry,” said Sledge of her sons’ murders. “God bought me through. But I really hope and pray the killing stops.”