One recent spring evening, eight women welcomed GBH News to join them for walk around Field’s Corner in Dorchester.

These women share a common bond: Each one has a family member who was murdered. On their path of healing, they have found a community at the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute, a nonprofit that supports survivors of homicides. And during this evening walk, they shared what they want the world to know about their loved ones.

There were both laughs and tears as we paused our walk at decorative poles throughout the neighborhood — each of which carries deep meaning beneath its colorful exterior. The “Peace Poles,” which the institute began installing last year, represent the institute’s seven principles of peace that aim to end cycles of violence: love, unity, faith, hope, courage, justice and forgiveness.

Why we're telling this story

GBH News journalists have been working with the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute to understand how media can better serve those who lost loved ones to homicide. Many survivors told us they never had a chance to share with the public who their loved one was. Our intention was to collaborate with them to tell those stories.

On Sunday, these public artworks will have even more visitors. They line the path of the Mother's Day Walk for Peace, which raises funds, awareness and community support for the institute's work in Dorchester to take a stand against violence. This year marks the 28th annual walk, with the theme of “Cultivating Cycles of Peace.”

Boston is experiencing a lower number of homicides this year compared to last year. But for families affected by the violence, it's not enough. They don't want others to experience the struggle of keeping a loved one’s memory alive after the headlines have faded and police investigations slow down, leaving some cases unsolved, sometimes for decades. 

“We are happy to see reduced rates of homicide, but even one homicide is too many,” said Taylor Lee, digital marketing coordinator at the Louis D. Brown Institute for Peace. “We don't want those survivors to be brushed under the rug just because the overall rates are going down.”

A woman looks directly at the camera with a serious expression. She wears a blue t-shirt with a photo of a young man with angel's wings. She stands next to a pole with artwork on it that says 'hope.'
Kianna Battle poses for a photo next to a Peace Pole in Dorchester on April 29, 2024.
Meghan Smith GBH News

Kianna Battle

Kamari Perry’s mother has a nickname for him inspired by his positivity: Kamari Mandela.

“Apparently he had a big impact on his peers that I did not know about,” Battle said.

After he died last summer at age 16, people who knew Kamari told her countless stories about how he helped them.

“Everybody around the board had a positive story to tell about how he impacted their life,” she said. “He encouraged them. He pushed them. He gave them hope to keep going.”

She says Kamari loved to give people quotes and sayings. One is on the back of a bright blue T-shirt she wears: “A loss today is a reason to win tomorrow.”

She plans to create a nonprofit called Mari’s World Heart of Hope to continue his legacy.

A woman wearing pink hoodies stands in front of a pink door. She holds up a banner with the words 'How Can Justice'
Mahogoy Payne stands outside of the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute on April 29, 2024.
Meghan Smith GBH News

Mahogony Payne

Mahogony Payne carries the worst kind of grief with her. She has lost all three of her children: Lloyd, 18, Rashod, 22, and Latoya, 35. Her two sons' murder cases remain unsolved, more than a decade after their deaths.

“For many, many years, I was seeking justice. And, it was kind of beginning to really stress me out and make me feel like really, really, really in a bad place,” she said.

She decided to “turn that pain into purpose” and get involved with restorative justice organizations. She started visiting prisons, listening to incarcerated people talk about why they committed crimes and how they want to hold themselves accountable.

“It just changed my whole mind frame as far as, you know, me feeling like I wanted justice,” she said. “Instead, I felt like I had got my justice through hearing these stories of them being locked up and saying, 'When you come home, you're going to give back to the community.' … So I feel like I have definitely lived to see my justice.”

Still, she carries memories of when her family was whole. She told GBH News how she wants people to remember her kids: Rashod loved music and going to the studio; Lloyd loved basketball and making people laugh; Latoya was like a “mini-me.”

“But now that all three of my kids are gone, it's so different now,” she said.

Lois Frazier wears a necklace with a photo of her son Bryan, who was killed in 2022.
Meghan Smith GBH News

Lois Frazier

Lois Frazier’s path to forgiveness started with a dream.

“With that handsome smile of his, he looked at me and he said, ‘Ma, forgive me. I forgive you.’ And then, he hugged me and he disappeared,” she said about her son.

Bryan, known as “Ebo,” would have been 40 years old this year. Bryan was a “fabulous” dancer and a great dirt bike rider.

Frazier’s healing journey led her through feelings of anger and revenge, and finally to forgiveness.

Before Bryan's death, she was angry he was going back to his “old lifestyle.”

“I was so angry at him that I stopped taking his calls from the prison for six months,” she said. “But I didn't know he was going to die.”

He had been in jail for three years, and was killed in 2022 only a few days after he got out.

“Him and I never saw eye to eye, until after,” she said. “I got to really know him after he passed away.”

Working with the Peace Institute has kept her busy. “They keep you positive. They don't give you time for anger and resentment,” she said.

A woman looks directly into the camera. She wears a peach colored sweater. She stands outside on a sidewalk.
Julia Thompson Martinez poses for a photo in Dorchester on April 29, 2024.
Meghan Smith GBH News

Julia Thompson-Martinez

Louis D. Brown had big ambitions.

“His dream was to be the first Black president,” said his aunt Julia Thompson-Martinez. “He always thought that his generation was going to be the generation who was going to make a change, make a difference.”

But Brown's life was cut short in 1993, at the age of 15. Since then, the institute that bears his name has helped countless families navigate the aftermath of homicide.

“My journey to heal has been a challenge. It's like a learning curve. You know, you have your good days and bad days,” she said. “But [it has] also taught me to be patient, be a good listener and be present. And also allow me to learn how to love and live again, even though you're going through this awful, spiritual pain.”

She looks forward to the Mother’s Day walk every year, and the opportunity to be around other people who have also lost family members to violence.

“It's a time that you feel that you're not alone. It's a time that you feel that other people know how you feel,” she said. “We also laugh. We don't cry all the time.”

A woman stands outside a white brick building. She has he head turned away from the camera and while smiling. She holds a large poster with the words 'What Does' visible.
LeeAnn Taylor poses for a photo outside the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute on April 29, 2024.
Meghan Smith GBH News

LeeAnn Taylor

LeeAnn Taylor loved the weekly tradition she had with her son Daniel.

“Every Friday night we would get on the highway and just drive. And wherever we go, that's where we landed at,” she said. “He always had fun in life. And as he said, ‘Mom, enjoy your life.’”

After Daniel was killed in 2014 at age 23, Taylor had to find a way to get back to that positivity.

“When he first got murdered, I was focusing more on justice. And that justice was just tearing me apart, making me miserable. So then I had to refocus my life and say, 'I'm going to forgive,'” she said. “Forgiveness is not for the person who took my child. Forgiveness is more for me.”

Daniel would be 32 years old this summer. She thinks about him whenever she sees the Peace Poles in the community.

“It made me feel good because I see my son still in the neighborhood. His love is still there, no matter what.”

A woman looks directly at the camera. She wears a green baseball cap and green jacket. She stands next to a pole with little bird houses wrapped around the pole.
Elisha Ross poses for a photo in Dorchester on April 29, 2024.
Meghan Smith GBH News

Elisha Ross

Elisha Ross’s son Michael, known as “Pacman,” was the only one of her children to call her “mama.”

“He wanted to take on the whole world. He wanted everyone to be family. He loved skating. And he loved his mama,” she said.

After he was killed in 2018, Ross had to find a way to rely on faith. She says both she and her son were spiritual.

“It has been my core … to know that I can wake up and smile. I could breathe, and I don't have to walk around with anxiety and doubt and fear if I'm going to ever see him again. He's with me — his vibrations, I feel them constantly.”

She now relies on the community of other survivors to help her with her grief.

“Unity — coming together, people rallying around to show love and support. …That's been an anchor for me,” she said. “I rally around everyone who’s ever lost a family member to any type of violence, just knowing that, you know, we can pull together to get through it.”

Keeping her son’s memory alive is why she got involved.

“I just want to, you know, bring my son into this space and let everybody know that he added to this world. He didn't take away. He added love. He loved everyone,” she said.

A woman stands next to a street pole with pink and purple art, with hearts and the word 'amor.' Her expression is solemn
Damaris Ortiz poses for a photo in Dorchester on April 29, 2024.
Meghan Smith GBH News

Damaris Ortiz

Damaris Ortiz came to the Peace Institute after her brother Julio, aka Tito Resto, was killed in 2018. At first, she was deep in sorrow.

“I kept to myself the grief, the pain that I had,” she said.

But she says the love she felt from her little brother helped her through her loss — and gave her a new purpose. She says he was a “go-getter” with lots of ambition.

“He's giving me inspiration. My brother was a rapper, so he wrote his own songs. So now I'm writing and I'm putting pen to power, so he's inspired me to [say] ‘I got this. We got this.’”

Working to support families of homicides has given her hope.

“I would like to think that I'm a voice for those that don't have a voice for their loved ones,” she said.

A woman is seen from the chest up wearing scribs. She is looking at a pole with colorful patches of art that is wrapped around the pole.
Maudrie Depradine stands next to a Peace Pole in Dorchester on April 29, 2024.
Meghan Smith GBH News

Maudrie Depradine

Alexander “Beanie” Mervin was just 22 when he was killed in 2018.

“He was an amazing person, amazing dad. And he loved his family and music,” said Maudrie Depradine, the grandmother of Mervin’s daughter.

Since his murder, Depradine has found a community among other people who have lost a loved one to homicide.

“I met some beautiful moms and uncles and dads — because it's just not the moms. I met some beautiful people and I just know how to like, you know, work through my grief,” she said.

She doesn’t want more families to experience what she has.

“I just hope one day that the community crime will stop and that everybody comes together, you know what I mean,” she said. “Even though they have differences — but violence isn't the answer.”

This story emerged from a listening session GBH News held with survivors of violence who receive support from the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute. To learn more about our mission and how you can connect with our editors and reporters, visit our Community page.