Roman. JaQuevin. Trevin.
The lives of the three young men were stolen by gun violence in late 2011 and early 2012. Roman Bradley was 20 years old. His friends JaQuevin Myles and Trevin Reddick were 19.
Reddick was shot in a drive-by shooting in October 2011 and died two weeks later. Bradley and Myles were also shot and killed in a drive-by in March 2012 while they sat in a car in front of Myles’ house.
Their names are intertwined with a new purpose: Their deaths inspired Denise Brown (Roman’s mom), Renee Jones (Trevin’s mom) and Jacklyn Hall (JaQuevin’s mom) to create the Restore Joy & Trust (RJT) Foundation in 2012. Since then the nonprofit organization has given support to more than 50 families of murdered children.
Although the foundation provides immediate advice and other help with funeral services, Brown said RJT is different because it continues to help families long after their child has been buried and the calls from community leaders and others have stopped.
Brown said that she and the other mothers created the foundation to give families a space to grieve with people who understood their pain.
“I didn’t want to be angry or fall into a state of depression, which can happen to a lot of mothers who experience this sort of sudden tragic pain,” Brown said. “I just wanted to turn my situation from lemons to lemonade and help other families who had been impacted.”
Inside the foundation’s offices in the Florida Christian Association of America building in Opa-locka are several framed collections of obituaries of victims — young and old — lost to violence in South Florida. There’s also a sort of running index of the families the foundation has worked with.
The names include Raymon Mills, a 19-year-old who was killed in Miami Gardens in 2013. Angelese Ladson, who was fatally shot in 2012. Gary Bell, who was shot dead in 2011 at the age of 17. Other frames display more recent cases, such as 6-year-old King Carter who was caught in crossfire and killed on his way to buy candy in late February. Tragedy after tragedy, they illustrate the collision of gun violence and young people in Miami-Dade County.
The office is also filled with hundreds of children’s books that the foundation collected as part of its efforts to reach out to young people in the communities affected by violence and to keep children occupied in productive activities.
50 The RJT Foundation has assisted more than 50 families since the organization was founded in 2012.
The foundation offers Reading WARRIOR (War Against Rage Reading Is Our Remedy), which provides tutoring, computer work, math, reading and other literacy programs.
Brown, a Miami-Dade Public Schools employee, said that because education was familiar territory for her, it felt like an effective way to reach kids. She said that it’s important to nurture young children, especially as more of them become familiar with gun violence and its effects.
“This starts at a very early age and even educators have to be careful of how they deal with our children,” Brown said. “Children know if you care for them or if you don’t care for them.”
After working with Jones and Hall to establish RJT, Brown asked other friends and colleagues for help in finding volunteers and financial support.
One of those individuals was a longtime co-worker, Jeff Ronci, who now sits on the foundation’s board and handles its communications. But at first he didn’t want to. Ronci thought the work would be too depressing and too daunting for him to handle, but ultimately he was convinced by seeing Brown’s work and by the nearly incessant violence affecting children.
“It’s everybody’s concern, it should be everybody’s concern,” Ronci said. “By virtue of being a human being I have a vested interest in this.”
The deaths of teenagers and kids in Miami-Dade County has remained almost eerily consistent as about 30 young people have been killed every year in the last decade — more than 310 young people over that time.
On that list is Eviton Brown, the son of Queen Brown. Eviton and Queen aren’t related to Denise Brown but Queen can relate to the pain of losing a child to gun violence and the choice to take action.
I didn’t want to be angry or fall into a state of depression, which can happen to a lot of mothers who experience this sort of sudden tragic pain.
Denise Brown, president of the RJT Foundation
Queen Brown became a community activist after her son’s death in 2006. She hosted a radio program on which she discussed violence and the factors that create it. She was featured as a CNN Hero in 2007.
A decade later, Queen Brown said it hasn’t gotten any easier to face the realities of gun violence in Miami-Dade and to go through the same mourning cycles.
“The marching is good to let people know that we lost a child, or we lost an innocent person, or we lost anyone to gun violence but what are we going to do about it?” Queen Brown said. “Just knowing about the problem and going back to our homes and just waiting for the next case to be on television, it’s just a cycle.”
Queen had stepped out of the spotlight in recent years. But when she discovered the RJT Foundation, she felt inspired to get back into advocacy work. She thinks that more physical and fiscal support will make a world of difference for the organization.
“Some programs just deal with you until your child gets buried and then they close out the file. Not Denise. Denise’s program is for life,” Queen Brown said.
A PHONE CALL AWAY
Sherita Small can attest to the attention that Brown gives to the grieving families she supports. Small lost her son Zamari Pierre-Louis in January 2014. The 16-year-old Hialeah-Miami Lakes student was walking down the street in Miami Gardens when he was shot multiple times and died on the scene. Police have made no arrests.
Not long after that shooting, Brown gave Small help through the foundation. Small said Brown offers frequent encouragement and advice.
“She’s just a real person,” said Small, who added that the two have become close. “Even though she’s going through her own storms, with her own child being murdered, she’s going to try to be the strong person and just make stuff happen.”
Small also participates in the foundation’s bereavement support group sessions, which allow parents to clear out their emotions and talk in a safe space. Small said the group is a godsend, but she remains disheartened by the fact that it continues to add new members.
“It seems like every week, every month we get new people because the killings are just steadily going on,” Small said.
But no matter how large the group or how significant the loss, the foundation and its volunteers try to find a way to meet the individual needs of each family.
“Not only do we help families, we go beyond that and help the siblings, the dependents and other family members who have been impacted by this senseless gun violence,” Brown said.
Small said seeing the attention given younger siblings and the young children of some victims is how she grew to admire RJT’s work.
“A lot of these organizations, they don’t try to get the kids counseling and take them out and do things with them,” Small said.
It seems like every week, every month we get new people because the killings are just steadily going on.
Sherita Small, mother of 16-year-old who was shot and killed in 2014
And as the deaths of young people continue across Miami-Dade, Small and other grieving parents said they will continue to lean on RJT. Meanwhile, Brown’s supporters will continue to reach out to other grieving families.
“Once the lights go out and the cameras turn off, people forget not just about the person that has been lost but the families,” Ronci said. “The families have to live the rest of their lives with the consequences and RJT is there and RJT stays.”
In the minds of Denise Brown, Renee Jones and Jacklyn Hall, the memories of their RJT — Roman, JaQuevin and Trevin — will remain. And so will the mission of restoring joy and trust in the hearts of families that share their pain.
To support the work of the RJT Foundation visit rjtfoundation.org or email the organization firstname.lastname@example.org.