Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

This Father’s Day, what dads of gun violence victims really need is support | Jenice Armstrong

I’m not a parent but you don’t need to be one to know that losing a child isn’t something that people can move on from easily. They need help. Dads included.

Joel and Cheryl Seay honor their son Jarell, killed on Easter 2011, through a foundation that works to strengthen families.
Joel and Cheryl Seay honor their son Jarell, killed on Easter 2011, through a foundation that works to strengthen families.Read moreCLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer

Mothers who lose children to gun violence have all kinds of groups readily available to assist them.

Fathers, not so much.

It’s a shame because Joel Seay certainly could have benefitted from some sort of organized support in 2011 when his teenage son was shot and killed right in front of him at 55th and Master Streets.

It happened on Easter Sunday after some guys knocked on his front door and asked for his son, who came onto the porch. Jarell Seay, 18, briefly addressed them. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said before turning to go inside. That’s when shots rang out.

Neighbors and police rushed in but were unable to save the high school senior, who was just months away from graduating from Wyncote Academy in Montgomery County. His family was devastated. For the longest time, Seay couldn’t stop reliving his son’s death.

“It was like slow motion. I couldn’t get to him. I couldn’t dive in front of the bullet. I couldn’t do anything but see it happen and it was the most terrible thing,” Seay, now 69, recalled. “It kept going through my mind. I kept seeing it. I thought I was going to go crazy.”

Eventually, Seay sought counseling and funneled his grief into starting the Jarell Seay Love and Laughter Foundation, a violence prevention organization.

“We had vigils. We marched against gun violence … everybody came to the house and we stood out in the streets and we prayed,” he told me last week. “There was a phenomena that came over me … I was really never like that for real but I didn’t know what else to do. I joined every group in the city. I was trying to do something to maintain my sanity and to make my son’s living not to be in vain.”

Looking back, he thinks he would have done better had there been an organization like Mothers in Charge or Moms Bonded by Grief that was tailored specifically for grieving fathers.

There’s a dearth of such services, not just in Philly but nationwide. Fred Guttenberg, who became a nationally-known anti-gun violence advocate after losing his 14-year-old daughter during the 2018 school shooting in Parkland, Fla., said he would have benefitted from being around other men in his position.

“As I saw how powerfully engaged moms were and the kids were, then it became clear to me: dads weren’t as much engaged in this conversation,” Guttenberg told me Monday. “It is a missing link and, candidly, I’m not sure why they haven’t been as engaged on this. Maybe it’s a macho thing.”

“But I want to change the narrative,” he said of his new #DadsforGunSafety social media campaign.

On Tuesday, Bilal Quayyum, founder of the Philly-based Father’s Day Rally Committee, is hosting a discussion for fathers of gun violence victims, where he will announce the creation of a new local support group for men called Fathers on a Mission.

Seay is scheduled to speak, along with Yancey Harrell, husband to former State Rep. Movita Johnson-Harrell, who lost a second son, 30, to gun violence earlier this year, and Stanley Crawford, whose son William was killed at age 35 in 2018.

“Men are suffering just as much as mothers are,” Quayyum said last week. “It might be even more because men are not getting the attention that mothers and grandmothers get.”

According to Philly police, 245 people have been killed so far in 2021 — a 36% increase over this time last year.

Gun violence doesn’t just happen in a vacuum. Relatives and friends of the victims suffer tremendous collateral damage like Seay did in the years following that awful day.

“I’ve been saving all of these kids, but I couldn’t save Jarell,” Seay said.

They say that losing a child creates unbearable pain. I’m not a parent but I don’t need to be one to recognize that emerging from that grief isn’t something most people can do easily. They need all kinds of support.

Dads included.