Hundreds of family members and mothers of violent-crime victims gathered Thursday for a citywide motorcade sponsored by local anti-violence organization, Mothers in Charge.

Escorted by the Philadelphia Police Department, dozens of cars, hearses and motorcycles drove from North Philadelphia to Grays Ferry to West Philadelphia to Germantown. At each stop, they prayed and read names in memory of those who were lost to homicide this year in Philadelphia.

"The goal today," said group founder Dorothy Johnson-Speight as the event began, "is to bring awareness, get people involved, remember loved ones and share positive information that families need."

The motorcade brought prayer, song, pleas for peace and emotional testimony to high-crime areas. At its 4 p.m. start, faith-based organizations, community members and survivors showed support as flurries swirled around tearful mothers holding photographs of lost loved ones, positive peace messages and white lace handkerchiefs.

As passersby at the 1415 N. Broad St. starting point stopped to watch and wave, Johnson-Speight said, "We want you to stay with us tonight, be with us tonight because it's cold, and somebody's son is going to be murdered on the street tonight."

The Final Stop

Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey spoke when the group arrived at Germantown Avenue and Wister Street. He pledged the police department's full support.

"This year, 324 lives were lost to murder; it makes absolutely no sense. This part of our city bore more than its share of those tragedies," he said. "So, we're here today to make a statement that we'll no longer tolerate the kind of violence that's taking place in our city."

Johnson-Speight, a family therapist, founded the group in 2003 after her only son was murdered over a parking space. In a prayerful plea for peace, Johnson implored residents to get involved in improving their communities.

"It's a painful thing. We wake up in the morning with it and we go to bed with it, and still our streets are being flooded with blood like a river because of senseless violence leaving mothers to grieve and cry. It's a terrible thing," she said. "We've got to work together to make a difference. We can't save our children, but we're out here every day trying to make a difference to save your children. We need you to get involved to help us. We can't do it by ourselves."

Johnson-Speight said she was overwhelmed by the community's support of the motorcade, in which there were 60 to 70 vehicles.

"It really was amazing to see how many people came out to support. The turnout was beautiful," she said. "We can only hope this translates to more people getting involved in saving our communities and saving our children."

The mothers present their case

Many mothers braved the cold weather, holding pictures of their deceased children. Among those lining Germantown Avenue to hand out violence-prevention literature was Bonnie Lucas.

"I think the young people need to really get it together and stop killing each other and try to do something positive with their lives," said Lucas, an eight-year member of the group. "I really hope that this will make a change and a difference in the community."

North Philadelphia native Cathy Lees said she hoped the event would encourage residents to share information about crimes with police officers to assist in the arrest of violent criminals.

"I lost my only son this June. He was only 17. So I just hope that people will pay attention, and that mothers and parents will get involved to save another child's life," Lees said.

Stephanie Mobley's 18-year-old son -- her only child -- was murdered in 2007. She shared Lees' sentiment.

"With this march I hope that we can open the eyes of one or two people in these communities that we're going to," she said. "We need to do something that will make the violence stop and to let somebody know to put down the guns."


Video and additional text by Kimberly Paynter