Dealing with the aftermath of police killings is disturbingly familiar for many communities across Ohio. As the families who have lost loved ones try to process and breathe, they are bombarded with legal tasks, funeral arrangements and media requests.
In the wake of Jayland Walker’s murder, Ohio continues to mourn. The trauma from police and gun violence — carried from generation to generation — remains largely unaddressed.
Black mothers, sisters, aunts, grandmothers, and others remain on the front lines of healing. As community liaisons, they are the harbingers of hope and resilient pioneers for their communities. With an unwavering passion, they have committed to breaking the cycles of trauma and violence, replacing them with loving, rest and healing cycles.
For Sabrina Jordan, founder of Ohio Families Unite Against Police Brutality, healing is about coming together and building a community within and outside the movement’s work. Turning her grief into motion, Jordan references her sons: Jamarco McShann, killed by police in 2017, and Jamal McShann, killed by gun violence four years prior.
“This is the worst club ever to be in. I wouldn’t wish that on nobody,” Jordan said. “I wish I would have met [my colleagues] in some other type of way. Now that they are in my life, I couldn’t imagine them not being in my life.”
Karen Hewitt, the co-founder of the Ohio REST Collective, describes how rest and healing are essential for hir community and other Black persons around the globe.
“Rest is deemed a luxury… Root it back to slavery. Rest is a luxury, and now what we are saying is that we have access to it. We deserve to access it,” ze said. “We get to experience it and live like everybody else that didn’t have to worry about undoing the generational trauma of slavery. Undoing the generational trauma of immigrating and being treated as less than.”
Ohio Families Unite Against Police Brutality and Ohio REST Collective assist folks in healing from trauma. For example, Ohio Families Unite Against Police Brutality works directly with families who experienced police violence and also develop prevention-based advocacy. They move swiftly and show up in multiple ways, as they are currently doing in supporting Jayland Walker’s family by showing up at public action events and fostering emotional support and camaraderie with other impacted families in the area.
At the same time, Hewitt and Erin Upchurch focus on helping leaders and organizations heal through the collective, a Black, queer, women-founded organization.
“We began this journey in December of 2020, after the social and racial justice uprisings in Columbus and across the country, to become supportive to individuals, communities, and organizations as they explored a new way of something possible for their individual and collective interactions,” Hewitt said. “The need for [the collective] came from multiple factors including police brutality as it is one way that harm has impacted mostly Black and other Brown and Indigenous communities.”
Despite their different approaches, Ohio REST Collective and Ohio Families Unite Against Police Brutality foster healing from systemic and generational trauma.
Dytania Hudson — or Tania for short — Adrienne Hood, alongside other Ohioans whose children have been killed by police, serve on the board of Ohio Families Unite Against Police Brutality. Now in its fifth year, Sabrina Jordan recalls how she and Hudson came together after both having lost two sons to violence.
“What’s helped me to heal, or to go through the process of healing, is being there when [victims’ families] don’t get the answers that [they] want or need… I have to help in order to survive,” explained Hudson.
Hewitt explained how the healing process requires being conscious of one’s self and how society operates.
“Dismantling systems of oppression and unpacking the reality and atrocities of slavery and how that generationally impacts our existence, that is our lens. That is our purpose, and the reason is why it’s called Restorative Equity through Sustainable Transformation,” Hewitt said, referencing hir organization, the Ohio REST Collective. “You have to dismantle the systems that live and thrive inside of you that allow for oppression. That is the whole concept of transformative justice is that we have to dismantle the systems that allow oppression to occur.”
Mothers of Ohio Families Unite Against Police Brutality describes how healing does not involve removing lifelong grief.
“Grieving, to me, it’s just something that you’re going to have to deal with the rest of your life. When you’ve lost your child, your loved one — or something like that, that is close to you — it don’t stop. It’s in you 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Especially in doing this type of work, it is with you at all times. And being around people that make you laugh, put a smile on your face, that’s the best thing ever. That’s healing,” Jordan explained.
“Any time, any day, you can just call one of us, you know, when you’re feeling down and you really just feel it,” Jordan added. “You know you can call one of your sisters, and they’ll listen.”
When referring to the grief of the loss of her two sons, nephew, and other community members, Tania Hudson explained that many families feel suffocated with overwhelming grief.
“The ability to take full and deep breaths is difficult for many, especially for traumatized people whose nervous systems are in constant search of a threat,” Hewitt, who has a master’s degree in education, said.
The awareness work that allows for society to gradually expand its ability to discern, heal and grow is challenging for the average person. Moreover, it is unimaginably challenging for families directly impacted by police violence.
“Everybody grieves differently, so it’s not easy for some people to come out and, you know, put boots to the ground, be out there… Their heart really can’t take it,” Jordan explained, adding that OFUAPB aims to create a healing space.
To create safety — including policies around equity that allow for nervous system regulation — is the ultimate mission of the Ohio REST Collective and with each person they work with, but the collective also recognizes the need, capacity and readiness to grow and heal.
“Some people will run from us, and will be like, ‘Oh, no, I don’t have time to rest,’” Hewitt said. “They really will repel from it because I think people innately know that it is not easy to get to a peaceful state. If it was easy, people would be there.”
In the middle of their six city-state tour, Ohio Families Unite Against Police Brutality hosted community block parties in Dayton and Cincinnati in April and May, respectively. Their Columbus event, which took place in June, brought folks together for awareness about their mental health resources, available programming for those in need, and engagement opportunities within their communities and the organization itself.
“We don’t ask for justice because there is no justice… You never have justice when you can’t bring your child back, your sister back, your brother…” Jordan said. “There’s no justice for us. But we can make justice for everybody else where their loved ones stay safe.”
“This is hard. For us to be out here telling our stories and bringing all that emotional trauma all the time. But we still do it because, you know, we want to help,” Jordan adds. “If it happened to us, it can happen to any-dog-gone-body.”
Additionally, the OFUAPB organization offers direct, multilayer support to families dealing with the aftermath of police brutality. That support looks different for each situation based on what the family desires and needs at the time.
“We get to all [the families] really before these attorneys and all that because they could be very much taken advantage of. And we try to get them, to let them know, what resources are out here to help them, you know, as far as funerals and all that type of stuff that goes along with it, especially the mental aspect of it.” Jordan recalled.
“We really go hard for this,” Jordan added. “If the state cremates your child, you don’t get to see them one more time… It’s so important to see your loved one, one last time, you know, to really say, ‘Okay, this is real.”
In addition to family advocacy, the organization promotes prison advocacy, public education initiatives and a campaign to end qualified immunity. Healing from these life-altering losses is slow, so these women also step in on the long days when grief persists. Often, with funds from their own pockets, the organization’s membership and board assist families with bills and rent.
Additionally, Ohio Families Unite Against Police Brutality supports youth programming. Start Teaching Our People is based out of Columbus and educates youth on conflict resolution and how to interact with law enforcement, authorities and one another to help prevent truancy, violence and death amongst community members. Likewise, it offers a grieving program to victims’ siblings and loved ones.
Hudson expressed that once a household establishes a foundation, the village will prosper by assisting in situations where one would typically call the police.
Similarly, when imagining an inclusive future, Hewitt believes in building a society where progress includes cultivating community and learning to rest and heal.
“We deserve that because we are born, not because of any other reason,” ze said. “Not because we are deserving, not because of a white savior, not because of anything else but that we deserve it because we were born.
“That is our birthright.”