We've become acquainted with a new organization in town that, from what we see, promises to be a major force in the quickening drive to bring racial equality to Charleston. It is the Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation. We sat down recently with MVFR's two Southern Organizers who are stationed in Charleston, Deirdre Douglas-Hubbard and Ed Ducree, for this Q & A:
What is Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation all about?
Founded in 1976, we are the first and longest-operating national organization led by murder-victim family members working to galvanize the movement to end the death penalty. Based in Raleigh, MVFR played a central and critical role in the campaigns that have repealed capital punishment in states from New Jersey to Nebraska. We also helped lead the passage of, and worked to preserve, the North Carolina Racial Justice Act. Working strategically with campaigns and national partners, we continue to deepen public understanding of the policies and practices that serve family survivors of violence far better than the death penalty. Our stories about the murders, or the legal state murders (executions), of our loved ones is what has given true life to the anti-death-penalty movement.
Will you be working with families of the victims of the massacre at Mother Emanuel?
While the Rev. Edward Ducree, Southern Organizer for MVFR, is a member of and on the staff of Mother Emanuel, currently there are no plans to work with family members of the massacre.
Since your major goal is to assist families of murder victims, how does that work and toward what end?
After a homicide, the psychological and emotional reactions are so traumatic and sudden, that the family members are shocked into total disorientation that adds stressors to the already complicated grieving process. MVFR, along with numerous additional support work, provides family members with a context to have their voices heard and needs met, to receive wraparound services to heal and restructure their lives and to navigate overwhelming activities and responsibilities imposed on them by the media, coroner's office and criminal justice system.
The most neglected and critically vulnerable family members are the children and adolescents of murder victims' families. According to a recent report, "children and youth in the United States experience an alarming rate of exposure to violence and victimization from all crimes that affect adults....Compared with other segments of the population, victimization rates of African American children are even higher. Living in urban environments also increases the risk of exposure to violence, and one quarter of low-income youth have witnessed a murder. In one study of inner-city 7-year-olds, 75% had heard gunshots, 60% had seen drug deals, 18% had seen a dead body outside and 10% had seen a shooting or stabbing at home."
The Charleston chapter of MVFR's special emphasis will be Children and Youth Prevention Programming.
What's underway there?
Specific plans are in motion for skills building, violence prevention, parenting training and after-school programs by MVFR staff in collaboration with the Palmetto Community Action Partnership. Four critically underserved communities are the target for MVFR addressing problems caused by orchestrated poverty and neglect.
How long will MVFR likely have a presence in Charleston?
A year after the Mother Emanuel massacre, is Charleston ready to make serious progress on racial equality?
The best litmus test proving that will be the moment when local governments initiate substantive strategies that provide economic and social justice to thousands of minorities living every day in communities of poverty, pain, violence and inferior schools.
What kind of reception have you received in the community?
Every attempt to market and promote MVFR has been received with enthusiasm and cooperation.
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About Deirdre Douglas-Hubbard and Ed Ducree, Southern Organizers of MVFR in Charleston:
Deirdre Douglas-Hubbard, a native of Lancaster, SC, relocated to Charleston to pursue a degree in Psychology and Jewish Studies at the College of Charleston. At the College, Douglas-Hubbard assisted prominent scholars of Jewish and African American History. She led Holocaust classes at the College of Charleston, panel discussions relating to discrimination, intolerance and reconciliation, as well as study-abroad trips to Eastern Europe under the guidance of Dr. Theodore Rosengarten. In 2015, Deirdre was selected to intern at the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. While working in the Human and Civil Rights Education Department, she created and implemented community projects to encourage awareness of the effects of violence, prejudice, discrimination and intolerance. Locally, Deirdre worked closely with the Charleston Promise Neighborhood, using her community organization skills to provide family therapy and other vital resources to strengthen underserved families.
Recently, Douglas-Hubbard was faced with two violent deaths when her uncle and cousin were both shot and killed in March of 2016. This horrific tragedy has deeply propelled her advocacy for the needs of victims' families and to promote healing and reconciliation. With her deep international and local experiences, she has developed a strong desire to foster understanding and community involvement and provide a nurturing space for victims’ families and communities affected by murder, violence, and discrimination.
Ed Ducree is an ordained minister who graduated from Emory University's Candler School of Theology in Atlanta. He grew up in the tough ghettos of Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant. After completing his undergraduate work at Cheyney State Teachers College in Pennsylvanian, he began his long career serving the underprivileged by returning to his old neighborhood as a street-gang worker for New York City. Over the years, he has developed needs-based programs in in several cities and is certified in anger management, conflict resolution and cultural competence. Ducree was hired by the New Jersey Department of Corrections as a consultant and teacher to relieve racial tensions between correction officers, administrative staff and inmates. His did community organizing and leadership work on behalf of the residents of the black neighborhood of Buttermilk Bottom in central Atlanta. The city government and Bedford Pines - the new name for Buttermilk Bottom - erected a historical marker in recognition of Ducree's work. Since relocating to Charleston, Ducree has served on the staff of Mother Emanuel.
Ducree has experienced several traumatic deaths, including the murder of his brother-in-law. He has helped to bury young gang violence victims with whom he worked and assisted in funeralizing victims of domestic violence.
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The Charleston Chapter of MVFR has an Advisory Team of local community activists who assist Ducree and Douglas-Hubbard in how the Chapter carries out its mission. They are:
Ron Kaz, death penalty abolitionist; Vanessa Halyard, family advocate, Dee Norton Lowcountry Children Services; Evangelist Tyese Miller, prison ministry and juvenile detention volunteer; Darcell White, parent advocate and former Charleston police officer; Ila Oree, emotional and behavioral disorders with children; Raymond Nelson III, founder of “Boys With A Purpose”; Paul Stoney, President/CEO of YMCA; Kelvin Huger, local attorney, Count and Huger; Mavis Huger, local attorney, Counts and Huger; and Kenneth Joyner, Memminger Elementary School 5th-grade teacher and a leader of “Boys With A Purpose"; and Tom Grubisich, editor of “Beyond Catfish Row” and a former Washington Post reporter;