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Healing And Wellness For Chicago’s ‘Angel Mamas’

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Tameka Lawson, executive director of local nonprofit I Grow Chicago, leads a yoga class along the often violent streets of Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood on June 24, 2014.

M. Spencer Green

While the victims of Chicago’s gun violence are often young men of color, it’s their families who live on with the trauma of having lost a loved one.

This Friday, the anti-violence group Roseland Ceasefire is teaming up with the Insight Project For Kids and other groups to create a wellness day for the city’s so-called Angel Mamas — mothers who have lost children to gunfire.

A group of mothers will do yoga, participate in a sound healing, go to a spa and do other activities aimed at wellness, self-care and grief recovery.

Morning Shift's Jenn White sat down with an "Angel Mama" about her story and the kind of healing and support mothers like her need. 

Jenn White: You have a very personal connection to this work. Tell us your story.

Shundra Robinson: My son Deno Woolridge was murdered Oct. 18, 2010, standing on his grandmother’s porch. And before that, my husband and I were very active in ministry. I was an evangelist; my husband was an elder. We did a lot of outreach ministry, evangelizing. So my son was quite familiar with that. So I did not wait until this happened to my son. I was actually proactive, because growing up in the city myself, in the Auburn-Gresham community, I’m not immune to gun violence. It’s been happening for a long time, it’s just out of hand now. I was hoping to prevent this from happening to my son.

White: After that incident, you didn’t put the work down. You weren’t discouraged or urged away from it. You really leaned into it. Talk about that process for yourself.

Robinson: So it took about three years to really launch out on a more national level. I launched out and in September 2013 I was able to go to [Washington, D.C.]. We actually teamed up with Congresswoman Robin Kelly. I was able to speak on Capitol Hill and that just kind of catapulted me to being more active and speaking out.

So I’m very passionate about this because I’ve lost so many people that now, I can’t even put a number to it. I feel that as a whole, our youth have become desensitized to it. I’m a registered nurse at Chicago Public Schools and I deal with so many children that have PTSD, ODD [oppositional defiant disorder], and DMDD [disruptive mood dysregulation disorder, and] ADHD. All of this is derived by the environment. They have so many social and emotional issues because of this violence. And it’s not really being addressed. It’s like they’re slapping a Band-Aid over something that requires surgery.

White: I want to bring another voice into the conversation: Darra is the executive director of the Insight Project for Kids, a nonprofit that helps students, parents and teachers manage stress in healthy ways. Their organization is partnering with Roseland CeaseFire to provide a Wellness Day for "Angel Mothers." Darra, when did you know this was something that was important to provide this sort of support for mothers who have suffered such a painful loss? 

Darra: This summer, when we got the Safe and Peaceful Neighborhood grant, we decided that the mothers needed a lot of healing. It’s a lifelong process. Because it’s a traumatic situation.

Trauma is societal, it’s generational, it’s everything. We all are suffering trauma on some level, but the people who Shundra are talking about, including Shundra, have a different type of trauma. This is very important to understand. That’s why we call them Angel Mamas. Because they’re always going to be mamas — always — even though their children are angels now. So they need to be recognized and understood.

What we want to give them is healing, because that’s what we can offer. We can offer alternative types of healing, and stress management, strategies they may have never thought of before.

White: Shundra, I wonder what coping and self-care has looked like for you since losing your son and whether you felt supported in the ways that you needed as you’ve been moving through the grieving process.

Robinson: I can say no, I have not received the total support that I could use. I did receive a lot of support from my church, but I do realize, as it's going on 9 years, I ended up in the hospital last year for two days because I was not taking care of myself. And a lot of times when you’re in this, it’s a lifelong healing process. But a lot of times, we really don’t know how to deal with this because it’s not natural. 

When you lose a parent, you are an orphan. When you lose a spouse, you’re a widow. But what do you call this? When you lose a child, we call it a "pain with no name." You basically don’t really know what to do. You have to learn how to live again.

Believe it or not, it really helps to be able to talk, to be able to just have that support. To have somebody that can just listen to you cry. Sometimes it’s not even in words — but what can you really say? So sometimes, just that support or that hug … just different creative ways to help us release.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity by Meha Ahmad. Click the “play” button to hear the entire conversation.


Shundra Robinson, a Chicago mother who lost her son to gun violence in 2010

Darra, executive director of the Insight Project for Kids, a nonprofit that helps students, parents and teachers manage stress in healthy ways.

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