By Dwight Hobbes
“Often, we think, ‘That kind of thing doesn’t happen to me.’ But nothing precludes us from being a victim of violence,” said Minnesota State Senator Jeff Hayden, whose 25-year-old sister was killed in a crossfire July 23, 2016 between rival street gangs.
Having already established the Taylor Hayden Memorial Foundation to End Gun Violence in her honor, Hayden was present Dec. 22 at the launch of the Tarvanisha B. Boyd “Be Better” Foundation at Sabathani Community Center in Minneapolis in honor of another victim of gun violence.
Veteran activist Al Flowers created the “Be Better” Foundation in honor of his own tragic loss — the shooting death of his 24-year-old daughter Tarvanisha Boyd on Dec. 20, 2014 during an argument in her Georgia home.
“This is always a tough time for [the family] from the 20th, when we lost Tarvy, to the 31st, which was her birthday,” said Flowers.
He told the MSR, “I don’t want her [passing] to be in vain. Anybody who dies with gun violence should always be recognized, and I want to use this as an opportunity. Our family has a lot of pain, but we can lift that hurt for others who are in the pain.”
“I want to give my condolences to the Flowers family because I know exactly how it feels,” said Hayden.
Boyd’s brother, Al Flowers, Jr., has taken the personal tragedy as inspiration to work for well being in the community.
“Little Man, as we call him, is dedicated to everybody who has lost their lives to gun violence so nobody will ever be forgotten,” said Flowers. “I’m thankful for what he’s involved with and what he’s going to accomplish.”
Flowers, Jr. said, “[Tarvanisha] told me, ‘Be better. Just be better in everything you do, no matter what. Always try to be better.’ She was right.
“We do need to be better — better fathers, teachers, doctors, better community members [and] better people just in general,” said Flowers, Jr. “It’s on us. We have to stand up. Every single day.”
He added, “You can’t save the whole world, but you can help the next person change. It could be just your friend, your child. It’s not an overnight fight. It’s going to happen over time. This is not just a memorial; it’s the start of something strong.”
Hayden commended the family for their activism efforts.
“One of the things the Flowers family has supported me in is a bill named after my sister that figures out how we can get the resources so we can get our young people to understand what happens when you pull that trigger. How everybody’s lives change, your life, your family’s life.
“Your victim’s life really changes, and their family changes,” Hayden told the crowd. “I’m thankful for their tireless work on this issue.”
He also challenged the community to take a universal stand against all violence. “If this was a case of police shooting someone, the place would be packed, the media would be here,” said Hayden. “When it’s us who kills us, somehow that doesn’t rise to the level of us caring about us.
“I care about us,” Hayden said. “When I think about what we need to do, there’s a saying we have: ‘Let’s get upstream.’ Let’s talk about prevention. You know where prevention starts, family? Right here.”
Sabathani’s president, Cindy Booker, who donated space for the event, said, “Al Flowers has done a great deal for the community in a lot of various ways, and it was a tragedy what happened to his family.” Booker said she had also suffered a violent death in her family.
“My father was murdered too, so, I understand what a family goes through,” she said. “It was just an honor for us to give back to the community by providing this space, and for the community to come out and give back to the Al Flowers family and for [that] family to continue to give to the community.”
Booker added, “I hope to make this an annual event. I want people to know [a death] is not always the end. Sometimes it’s the beginning.”
Hayden echoed those sentiments during his remarks. Looking around at the children sitting on laps and at the tables, he said, “It’s so wonderful to see these babies because that’s where it starts. We are all that we’ve got. If we’re going to be saved, it’s time for us to spend some equity on ourselves.”
Patunya Cofield, Tarvanisha’s mother, steeled her emotions to close out the program. “Tarvanisha meant so much to so many people,” she said, surrounded for moral support by Tarvanisha’s sisters, Shyanna Cotton and Destiny Cofield, and her brother Flowers, Jr.
“She was the first person who taught me to love the rest of [my children]. How could you not love a child who made it her business to make sure you knew she loved you? In everything she did.”
She underscored the heart of this gathering: “[Gun violence] don’t affect you until it hits your family.”
This article originally appeared in the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.