HOUSTON -- Standing before a crowd of young, first-time criminals, Dazie Williams knew most of them probably did not want to listen to her. A year ago, she almost certainly could not have imagined herself in this improbable place.
I would give anything to have my son sitting right here, so I could hold him, so I could touch him, she said. You know where I m going when I leave here? I m going to a gravesite. And I m going to sit on the ground and I m going to tell my son what I did today.
So she tried to explain why she chose to spend her Saturday afternoon talking to them inside a funeral home.
I have to smile to keep from crying, she said. That was my only son.
If avoiding tears was her goal, she failed. But Williams hopes she succeeded in saving another young person s life.
Williams was one of the mothers invited to speak to this group of troubled young people at a meeting organized by Reggie Gordon, a man who readily admits he was a gang member who spent years in prison.
Now he heads an outreach group based in southeast Houston that works to put young criminal offenders back on the right track.
Every year, as the summer ends, Gordon holds one of these emotional sessions in which mothers tell stories about crime and its consequences. One woman talks about the devastating consequences of a robbery committed by her 15-year-old son. Gordon implores the audience to learn from his own example about how just hanging out with the wrong crowd can lead to a life of crime.
But the most powerful story of this day was told by Williams, whose son Joshua Hill was shot to death by a carload of young gunmen intent on stealing his new sneakers.
You know the last time I seen my son? she asked, her voice quavering as she touched her forehead. With a bullet hole right here.
Four days before last Christmas, Hill and a friend drove to Willowbrook Mall to buy the latest Air Jordan sneakers. Across the country, consumers had gathered sometimes in screaming mobs to purchase pairs of the popular new shoes. His worried mother offered to join him at the mall, but he assured her nothing would go wrong.
However, he never saw the car following him home. In broad daylight on a residential street in northwest Houston, the four robbers sprayed Hill s car with bullets. His vehicle swerved into the side of house and burst open a natural gas main. Hill died with a gunshot wound in his head.
My son is in the grave, Williams said. You got four kids charged with capital murder. Capital murder! Over what? Over shoes.
Since then, Williams has launched a campaign that s trying to persuade Nike to change how it distributes sneakers and produce enough of its new shoe lines to discourage violence that s erupted around its product releases.
Gordon said it seemed many of the young offenders heard the message.
I wanted to do a workshop before young people go back to school, trying to get our young people to understand the senseless violence of death that they get themselves caught up in and how the parents go through so much pain, he said.