Far too many mothers in New Orleans have lost a child to violence. In 2013 alone, 155 people were murdered in New Orleans — a rate of violence eight times the national average, and that was in a year when the murder rate was down sharply in the city.
About a dozen of these suffering mothers will come together on Saturday, Oct. 18, to present the first-ever Helping Mothers Heal Conference at Watson Memorial Teaching Ministries on St. Charles Avenue.
“They call themselves the ‘Women of Watson,’ ” said Sister Claire Regan, SC, the conference coordinator. “They are women who have been attending a weekly support group for two years now, and through that group they have grown stronger. Now they have decided to put their pain to purpose.”
Both the support group and the conference are presented by the Family Center for Hope — the social service center for Watson Memorial Teaching Ministries, run by the husband-and-wife team of pastors Tom and Patricia Watson. The conference will be held in conjunction with Watson Memorial’s 20th annual Citywide Summit on the African-American Male.
“During the 18th annual Citywide Summit, we were speaking about violence, and a woman stood up in the crowd and essentially said, ‘I have lost three sons to violence. What are you doing for me?’ ” the Rev. Patricia Watson said.
After speaking with the woman further, the Watsons, both licensed clinical social workers, decided something needed to be done to meet the needs of grieving mothers. A few months later, the first session of the weekly mothers support group was held.
What was originally supposed to be a six-week-long group just kept going. Two years later, approximately 84 women have been through the group, including a core group that has been together since the beginning.
“These women now feel ready to move on and help other families cope with their grief and work toward a resolution to the violence,” Regan said.
The Helping Mothers Heal Conference will begin with a morning panel of counselors and social workers who will speak on post-traumatic stress disorder, including how it applies to different populations and how it can be an underlying part of violence.
The panel will be followed by a video in which 10 of the “Women of Watson” will spend two minutes each telling their story.
After a lunch catered by the women, participants will join in a roundtable discussion with criminal justice workers, including District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, interim Police Superintendent Lt. Michael Harrison and Judge Ernestine Gray.
There will be separate hourlong workshops for fathers, mothers and youth dealing with loss, a skit by the mothers and a memoriam of photos of those lost.
The conference will conclude at 4 p.m. with a somber parade around the block during which the mothers will all carry green umbrellas.
Helping Mothers Heal is free to any family that has been victimized by violence. Others are asked to pay a $35 fee to help defray the costs of the event.
Watson said the aim is to make this year’s conference an annual event, while the mothers support groups continue and expand.
“The one we have now mostly serves the Central City area,” she said. “The plans are to add two more — one in New Orleans East and one in St. Roch.”
To register for the first Helping Mothers Heal Conference, visit www.watsonmemorial.com.