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Dinner honors gun victims

Councilmen Leroy Comrie (fourth l.) and Ruben Wills (fifth l.) join ,LifeCamp organizers and relatives of gun violence victims during the fourth-annual Forgiveness Dinner.
TimesLedger Newspapers

Parents from southeast Queens and beyond who lost their children to gun violence joined together at Occasions Banquet and Catering Hall in Springfield Gardens Sunday for the fourth annual Forgiveness Dinner.

The gathering, which serves as an opportunity for the parents to share their experiences with one another, also acts as a kickoff to Peace Week. Begun by South Jamaica-based activist Erica Ford, Peace Week preaches the non-violence approach espoused by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“The one thing I realized is you can’t have peace without forgiveness,” said Oresa Napper-Williams, a Brooklyn resident whose son Andrell Napper, 21, was killed in 2006.

Ford, who runs these events through her nonprofit LIFE Camp Inc., announced Peace Week in front of City Hall the next day. The week includes events that focus on speaking out against gun violence and empowering youth.

But the dinner, at 127-08 Merrick Blvd., was focused on the mothers and the activists who work to stop violence in Queens. The event also included songs, dancing and poetry readings.

“It’s all about releasing,” Ford said. “It’s all about having fun.”

City Councilmen Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) and Ruben Wills (D-Jamaica), Cheryl “Salt” James Wray of the hip-hop group Salt-N-Pepa and AT Mitchell of the Brooklyn-based social services group Man Up! also stopped by the dinner to lend their support.

“I’m just so pleased that this program is becoming institutionalized in our community,” Comrie said. “We need to get people out of the mindset that they need to use violence to solve problems.”

Shanta Merritt, whose son Darryl Adams was killed in the South Jamaica Houses in March, said she appreciated the chance to be around the other mothers, although day-to-day living could be hard.

“Sometimes it hurts knowing how I got here,” Merritt said. “Sometimes I don’t want to talk about it because I’m still in, like, shock.”

Napper-Williams said she knows that for some mothers the pain is too great to attend an event like Peace Week, but she said the process of talking to one another is important.

“As bad as it hurts, sometimes it’s good to face the reality because you can’t live your life in a cloud,” she said.

Terrie Williams, writer of the book “Black Pain: It Just Looks Like We’re Not Hurting,” characterized the black community as faith-based, but said sometimes religion and prayer may not be enough and that parents need to talk out their pain with a therapist or their peers.

“My most important message here today is to get help,” Williams said. “You don’t just go through a traumatic experience and hold it in.”

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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