Allies of Innocence offers counseling to families of gun violence

Winston & Strawn partner Brian Heidelberger; Burrell Communications Group Co-CEO Fay Ferguson; Purpose Over Pain co-founder Pam Bosley; Perspectives Ltd CEO Bernard Dyme; and the Rev. Michael Pfleger, senior pastor of the Faith Community of St. Sabina, announced the launch of Allies of Innocence, an initiative to provide no-cost grief and trauma counseling to survivors of Chicago's gun violence. | Maudlyne Ihejirika/Sun-Times

Pam Bosley was among hundreds who marched on the Magnificent Mile on New Year’s Eve, carrying 780 wooden crosses and putting names to the staggering statistic notched by Chicago’s gun violence last year.

For Bosley, whose son was murdered a decade ago, the murders in 2016 — occurring mostly in the poorest areas of the South and West sides — are more than a statistic.

It represents a lot of Chicago families who were left grappling with sudden loss, with nowhere to turn.

Allies of Innocence, an initiative launched by key corporate and community leaders here just before the holidays, hopes to address the human toll behind the statistic, providing no-cost grief and trauma counseling to survivors of Chicago’s gun violence.

As of Jan. 1, Allies of Innocence has raised $32,000 of its $50,000 goal for the first phase. Its long-term fundraising goal: $250,000.

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“My son, Terrell Bosley, was shot and killed on April 4th, 2006, on the grounds of a church, a place that should have been safe, and somebody took his life,” said Bosley, co-founder of Purpose Over Pain, a 10-year-old advocacy group of parents who have lost children to Chicago’s gun violence.

“It really devastated my family. We never thought we would be in this situation. That first year, I tried to take my life twice,” she said. “The first time I sat in the car in the garage, turned it on and let it run. The second time, I took Xanax. No mom or dad should ever have to bury their child. But God kept me here for a reason.”

Hundreds of people marched down magnificent Mile on Saturday, Dec. 31, 2016, carrying crosses for all those killed by Chicago violence in 2016 and to call for an end to violence in 2017. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Partners in the new initiative include Purpose Over Pain, which will be referring victims’ families in need of counseling; Burrell Communications Group, where the initiative was the brainchild of co-CEO Fay Ferguson; behavioral health care firm Perspectives, Ltd., which is recruiting mental health professionals; and Chicago-based law firm Winston & Strawn.

“The idea for ‘Allies of Innocence’ came to me when I was on jury duty earlier in the year,” Ferguson said.

“There were so many news stories of the violence. We were all just reeling from it, and feeling numb. Instead of lamenting what was going on, I wanted to do something. I thought about the children, because they are truly the innocent victims of all of this, and I thought about grief counseling,” she said.

“We must reach our initial fundraising goal in order to start to do our work,” Ferguson added. “Our long-term goal is so that this can be continuing, because unfortunately, there are so many people out there who need it.”

Bosley’s son, a freshman at Olive Harvey College, had been unloading music equipment at Lights of Zion Missionary Bible Church at 116th & Halsted when someone started shooting. A man was charged in the murder, but he was acquitted two years later for lack of evidence. So the case remains unsolved, another long-term anguish for victims’ families.

The Rev. Michael Pfleger, senior pastor of The Faith Community of St. Sabina, speaks at the launch of Allies of Innocence, at Winston & Strawn’s offices at 35 W. Wacker. | Provided photo

The Rev. Michael Pfleger, who organized the New Year’s Eve march of crosses, said the counseling initiative is sorely needed. His own foster son, Jarvis Franklin, 17, was killed on May 30, 1998, in a case that also was unsolved.

“We’ve all lost people. We have to not only stop the murders. We have to stop the pain that’s going on in families who have no place to turn when a child gets killed,” Pfleger said.

“When they call me to a school after a killing, I look at an auditorium that’s one-third crying and screaming. There’s another third angry and mad. But there’s this whole other middle group that’s just numb. They don’t even know how to cope with it or deal with it. Crisis counselors come in for a day, and they’re gone,” Pfleger said.

Many family members who carried the handmade crosses, etched with their murdered loved ones’ names, on New Year’s Eve expressed the comfort of being with others who could understand their grief. This is evidence of unaddressed need, Perspectives President/CEO Bernard Dyme said.

“When people have grief, they often need help to go on with their lives,” Dyme said.

“It’s really important for us to provide some ongoing support, especially in communities where health insurance or funds and resources aren’t available,” he said. “Reaching out for help takes a great deal of courage, especially after traumas like the ones these children and families have undergone. Allies of Innocence is going to work very hard to break down those barriers associated with getting that help.”

Bosley said she and her husband of 25 years, Tom Bosley, found therapy for their pain in their anti-violence advocacy work. Their two younger sons had to come to terms with the pain of losing their brother as well.

“My youngest son, he start praying every single night at the age of eight, ‘God, please don’t let nobody else get shot in my family.’ My middle son, he tried to take his life,” Bosley said.

“We didn’t know where to turn, what to do. We didn’t have the resources. I was off work for six months, because I couldn’t get out of bed,” she said. “With [nearly 800] people dead in Chicago, we get phone calls every single day for help. I’m trying to counsel these parents, and it’s the holiday season. Things have to change. We need help for these families.”

For more information, go to the Allies of Innocence Facebook page.

Previously from Chicago News