Moms reflect on producing “The Path Forward”

From left: Dr. Dorothy Johnson-Speight, Aleida Garcia, Vernetta Santiful and Ruth Donnelly.

By Sheila Hodges, Communications Manager

Four members of Mothers in Charge, one of Philadelphia’s leading gun violence prevention communities, partnered with a longtime Philadelphia journalist and her team to produce “The Path Forward,” a short documentary sharing their own intimate conversation about losing their sons to gun violence.

The film premiered online last month: Now streaming: Watch “The Path Forward” in its entirety.

“The Path Forward” was created with support from the Credible Messenger Reporting Project, organized here at The Philadelphia Center for Gun Violence Reporting. Shortly after production, participants discussed the experience of participating in the film.

Dr. Dorothy Johnson-Speight, founder and national executive director of Mothers in Charge, served as the project’s Credible Messenger community journalist and also moderated the discussion with participants Aleida Garcia, Vernetta Santiful and Ruth Donnelly, who shared their personal perspectives.

They said they found that being interviewed by Dr. Johnson-Speight made them feel more comfortable than others interviewers, because she has had also lost her son to gun violence.

“It’s really a positive experience because the person who’s been through it, especially somebody like Dorothy who has been active and has learned a lot along the way. I consider she could be trusted more than someone who may have all the PhDs in the world but has never been through it,” said Garcia.

Johnson-Speight’s shared experience also prepared her to ask the right questions, said Donnelly. When her son was killed, Donnelly said she was asked questions that offended her, such as what he had been doing outside at 11:30 p.m. and when she would move on from his death.

All of the mothers described having a powerful discussion with many takeaways. Johnson-Speight said the conversation showed her how pain can be channeled.

“There is purpose in pain,” said Johnson-Speight. “I think that’s the piece that is most important, that we can survive tragic situations in a way that helps others, whether it’s mothers and families who’ve lost loved ones or whether it’s the folks we tell our stories to.”

The rest of the group said that participating in the project further showed them the importance of uplifting community voices.

“When people live in the community, they’re there,” said Garcia. “They’re there everyday. They see what is going on. They’re the real experts.”

Former television news anchor and reporter Denise James served as the lead professional partner. From behind the scenes, she also took away lessons, particularly about how pain shifts during grief.

“The grief is like waves of an ocean you might have if you walk along the edge,” said James. “The water might tap your heel or ankle, maybe even come up to your knees, and every once in a while, a wave will just come and go over your head.”

The women hope that viewers are also impacted by the video. Donnelly hopes that people are inspired to channel their anger in productive ways.

“It’s good to be depressed, but then find something to do where you’re going to make things better not worse. Like how are you going to make the city better to live in?,” said Donnelly.

Watch “The Path Forward” now:

Previously: Mothers discuss life after losing their sons to gun violence

Related: Community-based violence prevention works, but it needs sustained support | Opinion