BALTIMORE (AP) — It was on Mother’s Day weekend this year that Baltimore native Ericka Johnson picked up her late mother’s torch of community activism.
Johnson, who goes by Miss Ericka J, had organized a Mother’s Day “White Out” Cease Fire Peace Walk and helped award three moms with home makeovers that weekend. The peace walk event is unrelated to Baltimore Ceasefire, which is a different anti-violence organization.
“I want to keep my mother’s legacy alive,” Johnson said. “I worked alongside her. Now that COVID is in a place that is doable, and I’ve kind of gotten through my grief. It’s been really plaguing my heart to grab the torch up and keep it going.”
Her mother was Pastor Sandra Bell “Sandy” Johnson, a beloved member of the Johns Hopkins Hospital pastoral staff who became an anti-gun activist after her brother, Hillard “Petey” Jackson, was killed in 2000.
Sandy Johnson organized the original Mother’s Day weekend peace walk in 2017 before dying unexpectedly of cardiac arrest a month later, at age 62. Her initiatives to make Baltimore a more peaceful place to live, specifically for mothers, had been left undone until last month.
About two dozen people, including parents of children killed during violent crimes, Police Commissioner Michael Harrison, Mayor Brandon Scott and members of Mothers of Murdered Sons and Daughters showed up to the event in Baltimore.
Escorted by Baltimore police, the group marched through the streets chanting “Ceasefire” and “United we stand, divided we fall” despite the rain and wind that day. Johnson also organized a luncheon and forum at Johns Hopkins University after the walk to talk about gun violence.
Johnson’s peace walk and forum aren’t the only initiatives in Baltimore. Scott this year pledged $10 million in federal COVID-relief funds to cultivate what his administration calls a “community violence intervention ecosystem.” This happened after an internal review found that Baltimore’s Safe Streets anti-violence initiative lacked oversight.
Daphne Alston, co-founder of Mothers of Murdered Sons and Daughters, has been vocal about gun violence after her 22-year-old son, Tariq Alston, was killed in Harford County in 2008. He was shot to death at a party in Joppa. The case remains unsolved.
“I want people to understand that (the victims) aren’t just numbers. They are human beings, and they had a right to be here as well,” Alston said.
Having a rap sheet, particularly in Baltimore where crime and drugs run rampant, doesn’t justify their killing, she said. “That’s not a reason to be murdered.”
And the crowd taking to the streets during the walk helps humanizes those involved, said Altson, who helped Sandy Johnson organize the first peace walk in 2017.
Ericka Johnson’s work didn’t stop there. She oversaw a brunch at the Sagamore Pendry Baltimore hotel the next day to award home makeovers to three mothers who lost children to violent crimes. The makeovers are provided by the company Johnson works for, Parker Interiors Staging & Interior Redesign, which heard about her efforts and wanted to help.
The three mothers embraced each other and cried, Johnson said.
Angela Royster, one of the mothers who will receive a home makeover in the coming months, said she’s thankful for the support.
“I think the work that she’s doing is amazing. I think especially if it’s to keep her mother’s legacy alive,” Royster said. “We need it because the crime rate is not getting any better. The number of parents who are grieving on this journey is steadily growing and growing.”
Royster lost her 23-year-old son in August 2019 to gun violence and said she has been on a “long, lonely road” grieving his death.
“I think that we need to bring awareness any and every way that we can,” she said. “You could fall victim to these streets at any given moment.”
Johnson said it’s rewarding to make moms like Royster happy and that keeps her motivated to continue her mother’s legacy.
“We can’t bring their children back,” she said, “but I’m going to support them in their grief whatever we can be to them.”
One of Johnson’s next projects is “A Thousand Moms of Murdered Sons and Daughters March” this summer. She’s partnering with Mothers of Murdered Sons and Daughters to organize this event and has been meeting with local leaders in an effort to garner support.
It’s the same concept as the Mother’s Day weekend peace walk. Johnson hopes that if people physically see the thousands of mothers who have suffered tragedy and grief in Baltimore that this would change some hearts.
“I would hope (my mother) would be proud because I knew her heart, and she knew my heart,” Johnson said. “I know she would be proud that I’m putting this much effort. Go bigger, go hard or go home.”