New. Needed. Now. – Endings and Beginnings with Maxayn Gooden

Maxayn Gooden, at center, gathers other participants for a photo at our Credible Messenger Film Festival last summer.

A new job is supposed to be a moment of celebration. But, for Maxayn Gooden, it also represented a milestone on a journey, both literal and figurative. Her new commute to work would take her through Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station. A transportation hub that services so many commuters each day, 30th Street is something different to Maxayn.

It’s the last place she saw her son.

Four years ago, Jahsun traveled to Harrisburg to spend time with his sister during the Thanksgiving holiday, and his mother dropped him off at the train station. Just days later, she got the call most parents can’t imagine. In her mind, she can still see him waving goodbye as he got ready to board the train.

Too many parents have received that call – the one that can take a parent to their knees. At PCGVR, we are studying and hope to, one day, influence what comes next – how the story gets told and the issue gets covered. For many, the coverage of homicide is a continuation of trauma. But, for Maxayn, it was something different.

That’s why, as she pulled into 30th Street Station that morning, she took some deep breaths. She used techniques she learned in therapy. She thought about her son. And, she continued on to her first day at work.

Four years ago, she knew the story people would try to tell about her son. She wanted people to know he was where he was supposed to be doing what he was supposed to be doing. She knew the assumptions people would make, and those assumptions could not be given life. She also had a superhero sidekick, Jahsun’s godmother, Priscilla. 

When the news stations started calling, they weren’t ready. But, they had an answer. Go to the school, they said. Talk to his classmates. A fuller – a human – picture of Jahsun emerged. Eventually, Maxayn could talk. Later, she would center her own voice by creating Lasting Impact, a short film made in partnership with PCGVR’s Credible Messenger Reporting Project. 

Maxayn’s powerful experience with telling her own story led her to become the Credible Messenger Community Manager at The Center, where she helps others find their voice through her podcast, Dear Gun Violence. This desire to help others emerged soon after Jahsun’s death. And sadly, the opportunities came equally fast.

Just months after Jahsun was killed, his school lost another student to gun violence. Maxayn immediately asked to be connected to the boy’s mother. She knew that her experience – experience no parent wants – could be helpful to another. They’re now friends. It sometimes helps to laugh at the pain, which is why they exchange selfies on days when they “ugly cry.”

Grief will always be a companion, but Maxayn is able to continue forward. Because of that, she’s able to help guide her children as they continue to navigate the loss of their brother. She helps build healing communities. She keeps her son’s legacy alive. And, much of that great work has roots in the days following Jahsun’s death.

He was not just another victim. They said his name. They told his story. They spoke with his peers. They described him as a friend, actor, athlete, scholar, and son. 

Every tragedy has a rock bottom. And, in this one, media coverage wasn’t it, as it sometimes is. It was the beginning of the healing journey.

Between now and the end of 2022, The Philadelphia Center for Gun Violence Reporting aims to raise $15,000 and enlist ten new monthly donors. This campaign – New. Needed. Now. – will profile those working with The Center to advance empathic, ethical, and impactful journalism through research, improved journalistic practices, credible messenger reporting, and solutions-oriented convenings about Philadelphia’s gun violence crisis . Please consider making a gift today.