South Florida parents who've lost their sons to gun violence support each other after Uvalde shooting
A coincidence of tragedy and timing took place last week — a day after the elementary school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, where 19 students and two teachers were killed, the nonprofit Guitars Over Guns opened a new studio in Homestead for students to produce music.
Three parents who lost their sons to gun violence had come to the opening on May 25, 2022. Romania Dukes' son, De’Michael, was killed by a stray bullet in 2014 in Cutler Bay. Jerry Wright died in the Pulse nightclub attack in Orlando in 2016. His parents, Maria Jose and Fred Wright from Pinecrest, were also at the studio opening.
The following conversations were edited lightly for clarity.
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MARIA JOSE WRIGHT: This is not just 21 people that were killed. These are 21 families, a whole community destroyed.
I know the repercussions on a family from this kind of trauma.
We can't even keep them straight anymore, and we're not even talking about what's happening every day — or the suicide or the accidental or unintentional shootings.
We could raise the age limit. We could get extreme risk protection orders with some more teeth in them. We need to find ways [where] people with mental health issues do receive the help they need, that it gets identified and they get assistance.
FRED WRIGHT: It is not right for little children to be shot in their school. It is not right for people going to a supermarket to be shot. It is not right for my son to be shot in a nightclub. Come on, Democrats, Republicans — get together. Let's get something done.
Every time there's a shooting, we live it again. It's so triggering for us. I feel angered. I feel so disappointed. Hopefully in my lifetime, I'll see some changes. Hopefully.Fred Wright
WLRN: I want to ask you three how you take care of yourselves and your own mental health?
FRED WRIGHT: I stay occupied. I still run my business. I like to go play golf. Helping the communities that are more affected by gun violence is how you get at least one of the steps ahead.
MARIA WRIGHT: I came to see the opening of the recording studio for Guitars Over Guns here in Live Like Bella Park, because that's hopeful. That is something that I know will give kids a safe place, a place where they can create and feel good about themselves.
ROMANIA DUKES: This [studio] was a dream for my son at that time when he was killed. He was making music.
There's no self care for me. It's like I don't have the time to take care of Romania because I'm always trying to make sure that I'm out there for mothers like me, and for my community that doesn't have the same things that other communities have. So my foundation, Mothers Fighting For Justice — I'm always trying to give back.
I just push myself to go from Florida City all the way to Broward County doing different trainings. Like, I just don't stop. Doing what I do is therapy for me — helping others.Romania Dukes
WLRN: Sometimes we think of the families of victims of a neighborhood shooting as different from a school shooting or different from a shooting that targets a certain community or a certain group of people. Can you tell us how there isn't a division?
ROMANIA DUKES: We all feel the same pain. When I found out about Pulse and Parkland — we all became close friends. Like, there's no division. We love each other. We support each other. It's nothing that I won't do for those families. If they call me right now during this interview and say, 'Romania, we need you. It’s a march going on. I need you, I'm just having a bad day.' I will say, ‘Excuse me, I got to go this way.’
There's no expiration date for our pain. We're going to always carry that pain till the day we die.
FRANK WRIGHT: When I joined Moms [Demand Action], I was the lone man there. But, I was okay with it. I found the support from Moms.
Jerry was an incredible kid. He was so sweet. He was so loving to us. He cared about people that would go to Disney [where he worked at the Emporium gift shop in Magic Kingdom] and they would have an issue and he would help them. And we miss him every single day.
MARIA WRIGHT: Jerry was my pal. I miss him so terribly.
ROMANIA DUKES: My son De'Michael was my fifth child. De'Michael went to church every Sunday. At family members' gatherings, me and him would get on the floor. He'd get me up to dance. I don't want to lose no more kids. I don't want nobody to lose no more kids.
Stop talking about it. Do something about it.