Carolyn Murray: A Mother’s Journey —Not Just Another West-Side Story
July 20, 2013

—by Janet Alexander Davis

Carolyn Murray addressing marchers against gun violence. Photo by James Davis
Carolyn Murray addressing marchers against gun violence. Photo by James Davis

You know the old saying, that you don’t expect to bury your children? Well that statement has become a truth for so many women, and in recent years, it has hit close to home in Evanston, Illinois.

As a country, we continue to experience an epidemic of violence, of all types, with few solid ways to stop it. If you read the local crime bulletin you see domestic violence, murder, assaults and more, with no end in sight. Families are waiting for answers about who caused the violence and why. And in many cases, there are witnesses who know the who, sometimes even the why, but they don’t speak up or feel that they cannot. Why do they allow the no snitch rule to keep the truth from coming out? Getting to the heart of who, what, when, where and how relies on the community to take a stand. After all these are our sons, nephews, cousins, maybe even our daughters, or next door neighbors – members of our community, and one or more of them did it!

And the result of this violence? Carolyn Murray; a daughter, a Mother of three, a U.S. Navy Reservist who lived in Germany, a community activist, a college graduate. . . and. . . the Mother of Justin Murray, age 19, killed by gun fire, November 2012. Carolyn is one of hundreds of mothers across this country who have lost a child to violence. She is now a member of a group that refer themselves as “The Morbid Mom’s”.

Carolyn has been active in the Evanston community for many years. The mind set that took the life of Justin didn’t just begin recently. Long before Carolyn, and like minded people, residents began to meet regularly to come up with a way to STOP the emerging violence happening locally. Carolyn and others eventually formed Evanston Youth Initiative (E.Y.I.), and sponsored an event at Fleetwood Jourdain that led to the City of Evanston donating $150,000 to form a new department called Youth and Young Adults. You see, the citizens of Evanston do have the ability to make changes that benefit all of Evanston.

Carolyn’s journey continued, and even as the violence escalated, she was on the ground floor of developing a west side based, grass root organization called the West Evanston Strategic Team (WEST). The organization formed to address the needs of the 5th Ward, form committees addressing neighborhood beautification, housing and community development. WEST engages in fundraising to support events, hospitality, volunteerism, quality of life and safety, and a Newsletter team. While it has been difficult to gather volunteers, the efforts of WEST, and those of Carolyn Murray, has generated positive results and community engagement that has not been seen in decades. The safety team has been shinning a light on violence through the yearly National Night Out event that is held at the corner of Dodge Avenue and Church Street. In 2006, the largest candlelight vigil was held at the E.T.H.S. Football Field. For years these community events have been supported and underwritten by many, and including Carolyn Murray.

In the last few years, there has been a major uptick in gun related crimes, so much that the greater community is picking up the stories. Carolyn found herself thinking about what could be done to help curb the violence in Evanston. During the summer of 2012 she began working on a gun back program where guns would be turned in with no questions asked and those who did would receive a monetary “thank you”. Not that this gun buy back effort was new, but unbeknownst to Carolyn, this journey would bring her closer and closer to a life experience no mother or family member thinks could happen. Most of us think “it can’t happen to me/us”, “these things happen to others”, or even, “these things don’t happen in Evanston”. When you grow up someplace with very few murders occurring ever, it’s hard to believe that it can happen  when it does. Carolyn worked hard to gain support for the buy back program and it was scheduled for December of 2012, but not before tragedy would strike Carolyn and her family.

Life brings tears, smiles and memories.  . .
The tears dry . . .
The smiles fade . . .
But the memories last forever . . .

Author unknown

Justin Michael Murray was gunned down while standing in front of his Grandmother’s home. Just hours before he had returned to Evanston after three months of being away. Justin and his friends were sprayed with bullets by persons unknown. He had not yet seen his Mom.

While preparing to write my thoughts about Carolyn’s journey, I read, with interest, the June 23, 2013 Evanston Patch interview with Evanston resident, Julie Burkett, written by, Christine Wolf, about Julie’s efforts to address violence through an art project called, The Inside Out Project, the world’s largest participant’s art project started in New York. Julie says:

“Simply put: A person or persons who want to bring about awareness or some degree of social change form a committee. One or more of the people take to the streets and take portraits of our community members (likely to be a mix of social, racial and economic backgrounds) that are then printed into poster-sized form by the Inside Out Project in New York. In essence, this puts a face to our struggle and may help community member’s inner consciousness to strike down the ‘no snitch’ fear tactic that keeps the violent acting person/persons safe and us in fear!”

Bringing up this project as one of the ways to attack this violence is only to state, we are not isolated in this violence, this mind-set has permeated many parts of our country. We are not alone.

Carolyn’s journey has led her to the national stage. Representative Jan Schakowsky invited to the Sate of the Union Address of President Barak Obama. Carolyn, along with many other grieving Mothers and families, from Evanston, Chicago and across the country, attended this moment in history. I will never forget the image of Carolyn as the TV camera focused on her. Carolyn’s face solemn, standing motionless in the balcony of the Hall of Congress, holding a photo of her son, Justin, and wiping tears from her eyes.

Mothers who've lost: Phoebe Bradford, Cathy Key, Lisa Bamberg, Carolyn Murray, Sherry Walker, Jennifer Francis, Diana Peirce and Wanda Reed. Photo by James Davis
Mothers who’ve lost: Phoebe Bradford, Cathy Key, Lisa Bamberg, Carolyn Murray, Sherry Walker, Jennifer Francis, Diana Peirce and Wanda Reed. Photo by James Davis

A story should have a beginning, a middle and an end. I wish the end to Carolyn’s journey were at an end. However, I think she is on a “road less traveled”. One so many of us, with children or young adults in our families, fear. We worry about which road these young people will take during this “war of violence”. It is war and some have compared it to the wars our country has been fighting, for many years, in Iraq and Afghanistan. There are those who are using war like strategies to combat this violence, and not just in Chicago and Evanston, but in other places in our great country. There may be violence happening somewhere else, but this is here and now. Carolyn’s journey is ours because her babies are our babies. Her loss is our loss because a whole generation of young people, from an infant in a car seat, to a child walking to school, to one sitting on their porch steps in conversation, to one walking home from a party on Church Street, to one lying in bed in their home, are all living their life moments in innocence, yet they are shot dead, where they are.

This is not a Evanston west side story, this story belongs to all of us. This will be our journey until we all get involved to stop it.

Sources: June 23, 2013 excerpts from article in Evanston Patch written by Christine Wolf. Excerpts from Inside Out mission statement from their website. Phrase used from title of book called, “The Road Less Traveled” by M. Scott Peck, M.D. Morbid Mothers, stated by Carolyn Murray. Pull quote, author unknown.


3 thoughts on “Carolyn Murray: A Mother’s Journey —Not Just Another West-Side Story
  1. Charles Perry-Kelly

    Very well written. It shouldn’t happen any where. The community has to get over not telling what they know. The police can’t do it alone. I should know. I retired from EPD. Good job Janet.

    July 20, 2013 Reply
  2. Shun

    Thanks Janet for this article and Shorefront for publishing it. I think it is necessary that we talk to the upcoming generation of youth about the reverence of life and why “not snitching” is lame and cowardice. Too many mothers (especially black mothers) have lost their sons to senseless violence in every aspect and it has got to stop! At least we are talking about it. That’s a start.

    July 22, 2013 Reply
  3. Scootie Payton

    Great article Janet. We have many pertinent resources in our community. Our Churches, which are an extension of our families, as well as our schools,police and fire department, and community organizations should continue to unite to address solutions to our desperate needs of our youth. Parents have to step up and be more aware of their children’s activities. Be parents first and a friend as needed. There is a definitive need to change our culture within our community, right now.

    July 29, 2013 Reply
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