Chicago nonprofit rallies around mothers who lost children to gun violence: 'We got to be the change'

Ahead of Mother’s Day weekend, one local organization is rallying around women who have lost their children to gun violence.

Purpose Over Pain, on Friday, hosted a spa day at St. Sabina Church on the city’s south side – treating moms to spa treatments, including manicures and massages.

"It means everything. Often people forget the things the mothers and fathers and grandparents go through once our children are buried," said Brandy Martin, who lost her daughter and nephew to gun violence in separate incidents.  

Some of the women who attended the event lost their children recently; others have coped with the pain for more than a decade.

"It’s a pain that you never get over, you just learn to deal with," said Adrienne Swanigan-Williams, Purpose Over Pain volunteer.

For many moms, Mother's Day weekend is a difficult reminder of who is no longer with them.

"I know it’s hard, it’s still hard, but we can make it together," said Annette Nance-Holt, Purpose Over Pain co-founder.

Since it was founded in 2007, Purpose Over Pain has wrapped its arms around families who are trying to heal after senseless tragedies.

"You’re stronger than you think because you’re still here," said Swanigan-Williams.

Swanigan-Williams’ son, Tremayne Henderson, was 21 years old when he was shot and killed in 2017.

Through the nonprofit, Swanigan-Williams and Nance-Holt work to bring justice to families.

"We got to be the difference, we got to be the change," said Nance-Holt.

Holt's son, Blair, was taken from her in 2007 when gunfire erupted on a CTA bus.

"He was 16 years old. He went to Percy L. Julian High School, an honor student. He was coming home from school, a teenager got on the bus and starting shooting – shot five teenagers. Blair jumped in front of a young lady and saved her life. He died as a result," said Nance-Holt.


Friday’s event was a bright spot for many, including Shavonda Morens, whose daughter Jazzlyn Robison’s life ended at just 15 years old.

"When she passed away, my soul left too," said Morens. "I will never see her graduation, prom, babies, nothing, so it’s like they took my life from me."

Others, like Martin, say they find comfort in meeting women who have had similar experiences. Martin’s daughter, Akeelah Addison, was killed in 2019. She was 22 years old. Then, in February, tragedy struck again when her nephew, Sincere Cole, died after being shot 24 times. He was 15 years old.

"This is a group, an organization no one signs up for," said Martin. "It’s just boom, you’re a parent of the child whose been killed by gun violence."

Together, the women have created a support system of strength and perseverance.

"I would tell them, it’s okay not to be okay," said Martin.

Purpose Over Pain hosts outreach and support events throughout the year. For more information, visit the nonprofit’s website.