When Pain Becomes Purpose

The loss of her son motivates Englewood mother to take to the streets

Audrey Wright doesn’t want another mother to go through what she went through.

“My son was shot down in a drive-by shooting. He left my house at 15 minutes to midnight. 12:01 he was shot. 12:49 he was dead…it was on 100th and Throop. And the mothers…people don’t realize…never get over it,” Wright says, pausing every few words.

“A real mother never gets over the pain. I’ve suffered this every day of my life. That was my only child, and it took me 10 years to have him. God gave him to me for 24 years, and if He didn’t remove him, I would not be doing what I’m doing.”

Two decades ago, Wright founded Gordie’s Foundation, her work focused on trying to reshape her neighborhood and help other children. One of the ways this manifests is via The Englewood Summerfest Back to School Street Market, which has a dual purpose: helping mothers get their children ready for the school year, and showcasing positivity within the community.

“We bring together crisis intervention resources, connections, support, housing and other referral services for mothers of murdered children,” says Gordie’s Foundation Administrative Assistant Martha Jones, standing under a tent in the organization’s parking lot to introduce three “prayer warriors” who blessed the vendors and residents walking along Ashland Avenue. But in addition to the resources, such as school supplies and haircuts for the young boys, it’s also about “putting together a plain-old fun day outside, where people can relax and enjoy themselves.”

The Summerfest also featured gospel singers, and guest speakers Tio Hardiman, Gwen Backer, 15th Ward Alderman Raymond Lopez and former Harlem Globetrotter Paul “Showtime” Gaffney.

“They talk about Chicago being a war zone, and imply that people don’t care, and that’s not true,” said Gaffney, who wanted to be a part of the event based on the strength of Gordie’s Foundation’s work. “Yes, there is violence, but there are a lot of people who want better for their community, people who are fighting against the violence and looking for something better.”

“In the media, they push that no one cares, that it’s a free-for-all; that’s what gets reported, but when you know and see that people, that’s not it at all. I love the Windy City, and the heartbreak of what’s being reported compelled me, as a human being, to be with the city,” Gaffney added.

After speaking with many of the mothers who attended, Gaffney remains in awe of their resilience, commenting on their passion and strength.

“It’s hard being a parent: You don’t think about living longer than your child. So you form a group to help other mothers who have gone through that, to try to make sure there are no other victims. They could just grieve and think about what’s been taken from them, but they use their experience to help other people, to create a force to so it doesn’t happen anymore. They’re not being victims even though they’ve been victimized.”

“They won’t let the streets take both their children and them,” he said.

One would be hard-pressed to find a better example of a mother never giving up than Audrey Wright. So while she once used her skills with the sewing machine to spice up her outfits or create hospital scrubs and choir robes, she’s now focused on stitching together her community, for its collective soul.

“This event is about mothers of murdered children, and I am one of those mothers. I’ve been here for 20 years helping the community, taking young men with guns off the streets and putting tools in their hands. That’s what I’m about, getting out in the streets, talking to gang bangers, pulling in the leaders.”

“I wasn’t scared then and I’m still not scared,” Wright avows.

This is a story about the Community Safety and Peace strategy of the Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities.