On Sept. 5, I went to a memorial marking the one-year anniversary of the murder of two brothers, Steven and James Dent. They were 31 and 24, getting off the bus to go home to their wives and children in the morning after working the night shift. They were the youngest of five brothers, and their family, to mark their lives on this anniversary, commissioned a mural painting of their faces on the wall of an empty building on the corner of Clara and Etsel in north St. Louis, near where they were shot. The shooter has not been caught.
I heard about the memorial service when I went to a meeting of Mothers in Charge to learn more about the group’s work. They have all lost children or nephews or cousins to violence and part of their work is to help other families grieve. They have two retreats planned for families this November and 10 minutes of prayer on Wednesday evenings outside of dozens of churches now through Thanksgiving. They help families take action, too, posting notices on Crimestoppers and circulating fliers with photos of the victim.
The service drew more than 150 people, including the alderman and the chief of the St. Louis police. A mime performed to two songs about loss. The parents, a wife and nieces, and members of Mothers in Charge spoke. Two ministers invoked blessings -- all as we stood on the street corner, facing the mural. They spoke of their grief and they called on witnesses to step forward and tell the police if they see violence being perpetrated. A family member read a letter she had written that was printed in the St. Louis Post Dispatch.
Many came with red balloons representing the blood of Jesus, to be released in a prayer to end the violence. While they were untying the bundles of balloons, a few of them escaped and two danced in the wind over us, setting me to think of James and Steven. Then all the balloons went up in the air against the blue sky, carrying our hopes and prayers as we stand together against the violence of the St. Louis streets.