Dorothy Johnson-Speight is the Founder and Executive Director of Mothers In Charge, Inc (MIC). She founded the organization following the tragic murder of her son Khaaliq Jabbar Johnson in 2001.He was killed in a dispute over a parking space. The mission of Mothers In Charge is violence prevention, education and intervention for youth, young adults, families and community organizations. Johnson-Speight has been nationally recognized and has won numerous awards throughout the Philadelphia community.
When did you decide to begin Mothers in Charge and what does it mean to you?
When I decided I was going to live. I had lost my son almost 15 years to the day that I had lost my two-year-old daughter to bacterial meningitis. I wasn’t sure if I was going to survive, but then I decided that I was not going to let the man who killed my son to claim my life too. Mothers in Charge is my lifeline and it has allowed me to have purpose. I didn’t know what direction my life was going to take after the tragedy of my son’s murder. I needed something to do with my anger and pain. Starting the organization allowed me to take the pain and put it towards something meaningful.
What are some accomplishments of Mothers in Charge?
Two years ago we released a book called ‘Faces of Courage.’ In the book, 25 members share their story of the grief and pain of survival after tragedy. The women have all lost loved ones to acts of violence. We have also been featured in several documentaries; some of them were featured in festivals. ‘Milgrim of Pain’ was produced by 15 Villanova criminal justice students and was centered on five mothers living their lives after losing a child to violence. Outlets like books and documentaries are important because on the news you only get a sixty-second snippet of a murder, but you don’t get to understand how that murder affects a family afterwards. We share our stories with people in the hopes that they will learn to understand what it feels like so they to get involved even if they haven’t gone through the actual experience.
Have you seen a change in senseless violence in Philadelphia since your son’s death in 2001?
Absolutely! Mothers in Charge has been a catalyst for getting people to look at the issue of violence in a way that they didn’t before. We have bought attention to the issue through our rallies, workshops, teaching, etc. We have educated a community to think that violence is not a norm and you must get involved to make a change. There was a 29% reduction of homicides in Philadelphia last year that I believe our work played a part of, along with other Philadelphia workers.
Did you ever think Mothers in Charge would become as big as it is today?
I envisioned that it would but I honestly never knew how it was going to happen. MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) was an organization that I looked up to because of what they were accomplishing nationally. I guess it was my passion and the other women in the organization that continued to get up every day and work towards our goal of awareness that made the difference. Today we have half a dozen chapters across the nation.
What do you think contributes to its success?
A group of courageous women could have laid down to die but decided to get out and make a difference due to a trauma and give a voice to the sons and daughters they lost. Our women networked and reach out continuously to other organizations, schools, and leaders in the community. We would speak out about alternatives to violence to anybody and everybody.
Where do you see Philadelphia’s crime scene in a few years?
One of my concerns is that the crime is changing. Criminals are leaving children without mothers and communities without men to take care of their families. The crime is causing grief and trauma to people that should not have to suffer. The increased rate of incarnation and death is not going to turn around if communities don’t do something about it. I’m afraid of what we’re going to see in 50 years and how our people are going to be affected.
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As a leader and role model for so many others, who has influenced you the most in your life?
The two that come to mind are leaders like Marian Wright Edelman [an activist for the rights of children] and Maya Angelo. These women are my biggest role models because they have worked to make a change in families, justice systems, communities, ec. Also, Oprah Winfrey because she is about changing lives and is committed to positive transformations; which is what I love doing.
What was it like having your own start up foundation featured on the Own Network “Our American” hosted by Lisa Ling?
It was an awesome experience. The crew came stayed in Philly and got to spend time with us for an entire week. Although the show was only forty-two minutes long and featured a variety of other organizations they did a great job showcasing Mothers in Change. I wish we could have said more about our plans but I was extremely pleased and grateful for what they were able to put together in such a short amount of time. I was also pleased with Stephanie Mobley [who was featured] and the eloquent way she talked about our organization.
Has anybody reached out to Mothers in Charge after “Our American” aired?
Yes, people are calling us from all over the country with inquires. I just spoke to a lady from Fort Lauderdale, Florida because she wants to start a chapter in her community. The exposure will help us spread the word about senseless violence all over the county. Hopefully, our national growth will lead to an understanding that this type of violence is not just in big cities like New York and Philadelphia. When I visited a small city in Indiana the same environment of crime existed just like in our own Philadelphia neighborhoods.
How can someone who doesn’t have a lot of time to dedicate to the organization still make a change?
Any amount of time can make a difference. People can do little things like volunteer to tutor at a school or help someone learn to read. Aiding in someone’s academic success will decrease their chances in becoming involved in violence. They can still join an organization because even if you only have two hours a week you can be a listening ear. Being a comfort to someone going through a loss is a huge help within itself. If everyone did something small we would see a difference in our communities.