MANY MOMS spent Mother's Day either relaxing or enjoying time with family and friends, but Dorothy Johnson-Speight spent most of her day yesterday a few hundred miles away from home with a group of other moms who share a painful distinction: having lost children to violence.

Johnson-Speight, founder and executive director of Mothers in Charge, was the keynote speaker at the 10th anniversary celebration for a group called Mommas Against Violence in South Bend, Ind. Mothers in Charge, which also has chapters in Atlantic City, Chicago, San Francisco, Kansas City, Mo., and other locations, celebrated its 10th anniversary last week.

"We're forming a national coalition of organizations across the country that do this work around mothers who have lost children to violence," she says. "It was ironic that we had never met until Saturday, but we've been on the phone."

Since her 21-year-old son Khaaliq Jabbar Johnson was gunned down in December 2001 during a dispute over a parking space, Mother's Day has been difficult for Johnson-Speight. She also lost a child to bacterial meningitis in 1986.

"For a long time, it was horrible, it was very difficult, even with my daughter. When moms lose a son or daughter to violence, they have surviving children, but Mother's Day is still a very difficult time, because as much as they love their surviving children, the focus on that day oftentimes for me, and I talk to mothers all the time, is the child that is missing," she says.

The Mount Airy resident says things have gotten better over the years as she has engrossed herself in work and other things.

She had planned to go to dinner with her 26-year-old daughter, Markita, but after returning home from Indiana around 7 p.m., those plans were scrapped. Instead, the two spent time catching up at Johnson-Speight's home, while Markita's 2-year-old son, Khaaliq, entertained himself on his mother's cellphone.

"He'll be 3 next Sunday," Johnson-Speight said of her grandson, "so we're trying to figure out what we're going to do for his birthday, but even in the midst all of that, he's named after my son, so I'm still always wishing he was here to be in his life, be the uncle to his namesake."

- Solomon Leach