Mothers who have lost children to gun violence (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)
When I lost my son Keondre to gun violence last year, my whole life came crashing down. At only 18, Keondre was senselessly shot multiple times. He went into the neighborhood deli, and he never came out.
Though I didn’t give birth to him, I raised him. He was with me from the time he was four years old.
My memories of Keondre replay over and over again. I remember his bright spirit. How he was always helping me with my bags, joining the community clean-up crew, tutoring his younger cousins, teaching kids how to play basketball. Keondre was a stellar student. He had no prior criminal trouble.
Keondre was a light that brought joy to others. He was raised by a village of aunts, sisters, uncles, and family friends who loved him. Yet that could not keep him safe.
And I am not alone in this. Far too many mothers and parents are losing their children to this numbing violence. Everyday there is another report of a fatal shooting of a young person. Of another bullet that has destroyed countless lives.
The pain of these losses will stay with me for the rest of my life. But, with support, I have been able to find ways to cope.
To talk through my feelings in-depth, I turned to Safe Horizon, the nation’s largest victim services agency, for grief counseling. I was introduced to a social worker, Grace, who I can call anytime. She has always been there whenever I need her. Grace’s genuine interest in me and my healing has built a relationship that makes me feel that she is here for me.
Grief counseling has helped me so much that I find myself offering what I have learned to others. In addition to counseling, Grace helped me access victim services for help with funeral expenses and also helped with navigating many difficult processes. I want others who have lost loved ones to gun violence to know this kind of support is available, free of charge.
I want people to know that it's OK to reach out for help when you are hurting. Especially for people of color, we have a stigma in our communities about counseling and therapy. Don’t let that stop you from getting the help you need.
You do not have to feel ashamed or embarrassed about asking for help. When we feel like we already take on the weight of the world, this cannot be another thing to handle on our own.
And we have to take care of ourselves so that we can keep fighting for our community. Because I get the support I need, I have the strength to keep going. As long as there is breath in my body, I will use Keondre as a vessel to save other young men in this community. And I will keep reaching out for the help I need to do that.
I will never get Keondre back, and that will never stop hurting. But, with help, I can regain some of the joy that he, and his memories, brought to my life.
Heather Colbourne lost her son in November 2021. She lives on Staten Island and is a community advocate for survivors in the fight to eradicate gun violence. Safe Horizon is the nation’s largest victims service agency. If you have lost a loved one to gun violence in New York City, call 1-800-621-HOPE.