Once again, our nation is reeling from a new year marked by numerous horrific acts of gun violence, including the recent mass shootings in Monterey Park and Half Moon Bay. In America, every hour of every day, more and more families, friends, and loved ones become survivors of gun violence. It’s a pain I wouldn’t wish on anyone else, but I know all too well.
It was a Wednesday around midnight in September 2016 when I received the call. I can remember it like it was yesterday, when I held the phone to my ear and heard the words no parent should ever have to hear: “Jordan got shot.” I remember the screams coming from the speaker. The screams of my daughter, who was sitting next to me. My screams.
I threw my phone down, ran outside, and dropped to my knees. I prayed to God to save my son. But Jordan, my beautiful, creative, 21-year-old boy, died alone before we could be there by his side. He had dreams and plans. Talent and ambition. He and I looked so similar that I often say we had the same face, from our cheekbones to our hair. He was my “sun,” my everything—lost to a hurt person with a gun.
In the aftermath of Jordan’s death, I was stuck for a very long time, held hostage by the trauma. What becomes of a mother when her only son is suddenly shot and killed? I was angry. I was sad. I was in denial. I wanted revenge. I lost my hope, my confidence, and my ability to feel safe. God had shown me the highest of highs, then dropped me to the lowest of lows. But I learned that grieving is not an event in itself, but a process that lasts a lifetime. The stages are different. And when I was ready, I started to find my stride again.
I began to use the art of runway walking as my coping mechanism. As a modeling and confidence coach, I know first hand the sheer power of confidence. With my posture and body language, shoulders rolled back, chest out, my core tight, and my chin up, I can strut through anything. And in the moments of my deepest grief, when my body would break and tears would roll down my face, I would remind myself the power is within me. If I held strength in my posture, my mind would soon follow. And it did.
I quickly realized I could help other people manage their pain through empowering them to stand tall, physically and emotionally. I founded a program, “Strut Talk Runway Therapy” to help other people devastated by trauma heal. Over the years, I’ve worked with fellow parents like me who never got to kiss their kids goodbye, spouses whose partners have died by firearm suicide, and community members whose dear friends were unintentionally shot and killed.
59 percent of adults or someone they know or care about have experienced gun violence in their lifetime.
We’re all part of a club that no one wants to join, yet too many of us find ourselves in. In the years since I lost Jordan, both of my sisters have lost children to senseless acts of gun violence. And we’re not alone: All told, 59 percent of adults in America, including 71 percent of Black people, are survivors of gun violence, either experiencing gun violence themselves or caring for someone who has experienced gun violence in their lifetimes. Those numbers are too high. Too many of us are suffering.
February 1-7 marked the fifth annual National Gun Violence Survivors Week, a time when survivors and allies across the country come together to honor and recognize the human toll of the American gun violence crisis. I know first hand that gun violence forever changes the lives of people who experience it, and we live with its trauma every single day—but we are strong. When I walk into a room, I want people to see that strength. I want them to see my authority, to see me. It’s my hope to inspire others to feel the same, and for all survivors to know that they can walk tall too. But we are even stronger when all people in America, impacted by gun violence or not, stand with us to call for a nation where gun violence is not a daily reality.
I miss Jordan. I still see his face when I look in the mirror. But while losing him was a chapter in my life, it will not be the end of my book. I use my voice to honor him, this week and every day of the year. And I know that our stories as survivors are immensely powerful. We must continue to tell them, and demand action to prevent more loss of life and potential like my Jordan.
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Lolita Frazier (she/her/hers)
Everytown Survivor Fellow