- Associated Press - Monday, January 26, 2015

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - On July 14, 2013, William Kenneth Wise Jr., 42, had just left his girlfriend’s house and was walking down 27th Street near Silver in North Philadelphia, when someone fatally shot him in the head.

The shooter, who hasn’t been caught, ruined more than one life.

“It still feels like it just happened yesterday,” Wise’s mother, Ed’na Drakeford of West Oak Lane, said recently. “To lose someone that close to you is like losing part of your body.

“I couldn’t eat,” she said. “I couldn’t sleep. I thought it should have been me instead of my son.”

On the Wednesday after Wise was shot, Philadelphia police sent a list of the week’s homicide victims and their next-of-kin contacts to Victoria Greene, as they have done for years.

Greene reached out to Drakeford, inviting her to the former parish house on Germantown Avenue near Ashmead Street where the Every Murder Is Real (EMIR) Healing Center, named after Greene’s slain son Emir, offers therapy from inside the crippling grief of losing a loved one to murder.

“Ms. Victoria is God sent,” Drakeford said, sitting in one of the grief-counseling rooms at EMIR, while members of her family - Giannah, 15; Malaysia, 11; Asijah, 6; Desiree, 5; and Mekhi, 2 - relaxed in the children’s after-school room.

“When something like this hits home,” Drakeford said, “you feel like you just want to hurt somebody. You isolate yourself because you feel people don’t understand, can’t understand what you are going through.

“Ms. Victoria understands,” she said. “She doesn’t judge. She holds your hand through the whole thing.”

Greene and her daughter Chantay Love are able to help grieving parents like Drakeford because they’ve lived the nightmare and know how deeply it cuts into the surviving family’s psyche.

Greene said that when her only son, Emir, 20, was killed in a 1997 drive-by shooting in East Germantown, a grief-assistance program saved her life.

“You can’t sleep, you can’t eat, you think you’re going crazy,” Greene said.

“You think you’re seeing your son walking up and down the street,” she said. “You pass by a burned-out market and you think you see his favorite food. You start thinking, ‘Uh oh.’ You are hypervigilant. You are on guard all the time. You don’t trust anyone.”

Greene, a career social worker, said that since she started her nonprofit EMIR in 2003, she’s found that, like herself and her four daughters, families of murder victims suffer symptoms similar to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) much like soldiers.

“Most of the murders are of young black men between the ages of 14 and 24,” Greene said. “These young black men are on a battlefield on these streets.”

During her grief-counseling sessions at Philadelphia schools, Greene said that in one classroom, she asked 25 teenagers how many of them had lost a friend or a family member to homicide, and 23 hands went up.

Greene said, “One teenager told me, ‘You’re 64 and I’m 15, and I know more people who got murdered than you do.’ A young man told me, ‘I pray every night not to wake up, because I know the next time, it’s going to be me.’

“I asked students to write down the names of people they knew who had been murdered,” Greene said. “One young lady wrote 30 names, then had to stop because the last name was her brother.”

Sharon Patton-Thaxton of Lafayette Hill has been friends with Greene for 20 years, ever since the two met while selling Mary Kay cosmetics to supplement their incomes.

Patton-Thaxton’s son, Jason, 31, was murdered on July 27, 2010, after a bar fight in Nicetown.

Emotionally devastated, Patton-Thaxton, the retired principal of Prince Hall Elementary School in West Oak Lane, immediately turned to her longtime friend Greene for help.

“I almost fainted,” Greene said. “I couldn’t believe it. Sharon and I had talked about ages 14 to 24 being the most dangerous time for homicides. When her son got to be 30, we were both like, ‘He made it!’ “

A year later, Jason was dead.

“I had to put the friend piece aside,” Greene said, “because it was not a time for friendship. It was time for grief counseling.”

Both perpetrators were caught, convicted and sentenced to long prison terms, but that did not stop Patton-Thaxton from feeling she was “going crazy.”

And maybe she would have, she said, if not for her friend and counselor, Greene.

Patton-Thaxton now volunteers at EMIR to help other grieving families survive the aftershock she went through.

Drakeford is still waiting for her son’s murderer to be brought to justice.

“I pray every night for the police to bring closure by catching the person who did this,” Drakeford said. “But I know it’s not going to bring my son back. I know I’m going to grieve for the rest of my life.”

She credits Greene and EMIR with giving her the strength to care for her five children instead of drowning in grief.

“I’m through with the counseling here but not with my friendship,” Drakeford said. “They’re like my family and always will be.”





Information from: The Philadelphia Daily News, https://www.phillydailynews.com/

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