By Hannah Taylor
the Durham VOICE
“I wasn’t able to call it murder for a long time,” says Joslin Simms. “I used to say my son died…”
Simms cradles a photograph of her son in her hands. The memory of Rayburn “Black” Simms is preserved in a 6-by-9 frame. He is dressed in black slacks and a white button-down shirt. His black jacket is tossed casually over his shoulder as he poses nonchalantly on the day of his younger brother’s wedding. His smile is warm and relaxed like the sunny weather the day the photo was taken. He is 30 years old.
Rayburn, known as “Ray” by his family, never aged past 30. In May 2005, he was shot to death at the corner of Broad Street and Leon Street, leaving behind four children including a one month-old daughter. His daughter Shae is now 18, Raven is 15, Marcus is 12 and Toni-Ray, the youngest, is now 5 years old. His killing is one of the Durham’s unsolved crimes and one of 40 homicides that took place in the city in 2005 alone.
The 19th Annual Vigil Against Violence on March 3 was held to honor the lives of the 28 people killed in 2010 and to allow Durham to mourn as a community. This year’s event was sponsored by the Religious Coalition for Nonviolent Durham, Parents of Murdered Children and Durham Congregations in Action at the Shepherd’s House United Methodist Church on North Driver Street.
Simms was the first mother to share her story that day. She stood at the podium in front of an audience of 200 and poured her grief onto empathetic ears. In the audience, pastors, church members, numerous family members and friends of murder victims and at least one police officer listened and supported.
“We go on but we don’t forget,” Simms said to the crowd. “It’s been almost six years, but I still cry every night. I have to cry in quiet because I don’t want to bring my family down, so I wait until everyone goes to bed. I close my door and I cry.”
The audience joined in prayer led by ministers from three different churches and hymns led by vigil participant Mary Day Saou’s soaring voice. A candle was lit and a bell rung as the name of each victim was read aloud during the vigil.
“I just like hearing my daughter’s name out loud and knowing that someone remembers her,” said Effie Steele, the chair of the coalition’s board of directors, who presided over the event. Effie’s daughter, Ebony Robinson, and her unborn child were killed in 2007.
After the candle ceremony, anyone who had lost a loved one to violence in Durham was invited to the podium to speak that person’s name. A line formed at the front. Some people spoke only a name, while others shared more personal memories.
One young girl wept openly about her cousin, a promising student, who was killed at 19. A mother told the story of her daughter, who had five children of her own, who was kidnapped and beaten to death in the woods behind her house. One daughter, whose mother’s life had been taken, spoke about feeling a pain that becomes sufferable but never goes away. Most speakers were mothers mourning their children.
As the line at the front of the church grew, the vigil veered off program and stories poured forth. More people shared their stories, and one man spontaneously sang a gospel song.
Marcia Owen, the director of the coalition and organizer of the vigil, said that community support is the key to mending hearts and changing the trend of violence in Durham.
“It’s just a time like no other in Durham when we stop and gather to honor those who’ve been taken by violence and acknowledge the injustice and receive the grace that comes with honoring a common bond,” said Owen. “It’s in that unity that we find healing.”
Crime doesn’t just affect individuals and families, but entire communities. In Durham, 65 percent of crime occurs on the streets, Owen said.
“It’s happening in our neighborhoods. It’s affecting our neighborhoods,” she said. “It really behooves us to respond as a community and not let those families become isolated and alone in their sorrow.”
The anti-violence vigils began in 1994, but the murder rate has remained relatively steady since then. Out of the pain and anger of loss have come pleas for change at the community level.
Recidivism, or the return of individuals to jail after a repeat offense, is common in Durham. However, Owen believes incarceration as a safety measure doesn’t work. Instead, she advocates placing restorative justice groups in the court system to allow the community to decide how to punish criminal behavior.
Charles Lyons, who led the Salvation Boys and Girls Club in Durham for 20 years, proposed community activism such as marches against violence and more thorough integration across racial and socio-economic levels. He listed the names of 20 of his “kids” who were “gone to soon” — killed in their youth by violent acts.
“My dream is for Latinos, for whites, for blacks, for Indians — for whomever to come together, starting as 3- and 4-year-olds in these beautiful, newly renovated recreation centers with free programs, to start sharing each other’s cultures, start friendships that last and eventually cut down on the violence in Durham,” Lyons said.
“I’m tired of seeing our young people die,” Simms says. “The violence is not worth it. I had a full heart but now I only have three-fourths of a heart. We need to stand up for this. Churches need to stand up for this. We need to take our town back and tell them no more.”
We honor the memory of the following people murdered in Durham in 2010:
Crystal Lynn Baker: Deceased 1/22/10, 24 years old
Martin Martinez: Deceased 2/6/10, 42 years old
Toni Fowler: Deceased 2/6/10, 46 years old
Rayshan Cotton, Deceased 3/11/10, 29 years old
Manuel Erazo Oseguera: Deceased 3/11/10, 34 years old
Aaron Lorenzo Dorsey: Deceased 3/13/10, 25 years old
Daniel Evans: Deceased 3/16/10, 25 years old
Marko D. Thornton: Deceased 3/22/10, 21 years old
George Pratt: Deceased 6/12/10, 83 years old
Manuel Lopez Mata: Deceased 3/21/10, 32 years old
Kareem Fowler: Deceased 4/17/10, 33 years old
Joseph Pence: Deceased 4/17/10, 44 years old
Vincent Lee (Red) Webb: Deceased 2010, age not available
Jermaine Anthony Jackson: Deceased 4/20/10, 25 years old
Charlene King: Deceased 5/4/10, 49 years old
Burnette Taylor: Deceased 5/4/10, 52 years old
Lemuel Zekena “Zeke” Sherman: Deceased 6/1/10, 27 years old
Christopher Ladell Pollard: Deceased 6/12/10, 29 years old
Wanda Rose Spence: Found Deceased 6/30/10, 43 years old
Tony Montrel Burns: Deceased 7/6/10, 23 years old
Humberto Reyes: Deceased 7/22/10, 25 years old
Jay Lerma: Deceased 7/26/10, 31 years old
Torian Thornton: Deceased 8/11/10, 17 years old
Larry Donnell Timberlake, Sr.: Deceased 8/11/10, 52 years old
Bernardo Medina Ponce: Deceased 9/4/10, 33 years old
Lakeia Lacole Boxley: Reported Missing 3/31/08, 31 years old
Blake Mitchell: Deceased 9/22/10, 4 years old
James Holsclaw: Deceased 12/29/10, 21 years old.
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