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Group honors lost youths at vigil

Mothers in Charge held its annual year-end vigil last night in Center City.

Dorothy Johnson-Speight, founder of Mothers in Charge, at last night’s vigil.
Dorothy Johnson-Speight, founder of Mothers in Charge, at last night’s vigil.Read more

AS MEMBERS of Mothers in Charge filed into their annual As We Remember vigil last night, they were greeted with a familiar sight - the faces of their lost sons and daughters.

Lifelike painted portraits of the children depicted the victims as they're best remembered: Smiling, at ease, happy.

"When you see them together at once, it has an overwhelming impact," said Judy Ringold, the founder of Lost Dreams on Canvas. "It underscores how terrible this issue really is."

For 20 years, Ringold has organized artists to paint these portraits, and has been a close collaborator with Mothers in Charge, a community organization that provides support services to the families of victims of urban violence.

"Nothing can bring their children back, but having a remembrance of them is a small token of relief," Ringold said at the vigil, held at the Friends Center on Cherry Street near 15th.

And for Dorothy Johnson-Speight, the founder of Mothers in Charge, the paintings served as a visual cue for the group's mission.

"We don't to see any more new paintings," she said. "We don't want to have any new members; we're an organization that really wants to be out of business" - which is why Johnson-Speight organizes these yearly vigils, to keep an issue in the public spotlight that, she said, is too often forgotten.

"They're our roses in December," she said. "We have memories of them. We want more, but we can't get more. The violence has to stop, and everyone needs to get involved."

Johnson-Speight's message seems to be reaching its audience: 2013 was a record year for the number of volunteers, she said. It's also a record year for the city, with the lowest number of homicides since 1967.

But, for Johnson-Speight, any number above zero is too high.

"Our phone still rings off the hook every day with families calling about losing loved ones to violence," she said. "Until that ceases, we'll do what we do."

Deputy Police Commissioner Kevin Bethel, who spoke at the vigil, said he was glad to hear that.

"You can't measure their work, can't measure the positive contacts that they're making," he said. "What they do won't show up in end-of-year statistics, but talking to people and educating people is an important part of this process."