After Pamela Bosley’s son Terrell Bosley was fatally shot in 2006 on the Far South Side, she didn’t know how to move forward.
“The day destroyed my life, it devastated my family,” Pamela said. “I tried to take my life twice because of the pain, the trauma.”
But Bosley decided to turn her grief into action. She was among several parents who co-founded Purpose Over Pain in 2007, an organization that provides support services for families affected by gun violence.
On Tuesday, Bosley and dozens of other people whose lives have been devastated by shootings attended a training session at McCormick Place where they learned how to navigate their pain and, if they choose to, join the fight against gun violence.
The event was a collaboration between Survivors Empowered, an organization dedicated to saving lives from gun violence, and former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords. The Arizona Democrat survived a shooting in January 2011 that killed six people and wounded 13, including Giffords.
Giffords, who suffered a fractured skull in the 2011 shooting and had to relearn how to walk and talk, appeared at the end of Tuesday’s training session and said a few words about her journey toward recovery.
“I put one foot in front of the other, I found one word and then I found another,” Giffords said. “Words once came easily, today I struggle to speak, but I’ve not lost my voice. America needs all of us to speak out even when you have to fight to find the words.”
After Giffords spoke, she joined the room in singing happy birthday to Marsha Lee, who turned 67 Tuesday. Lee’s son Tommy was killed in a shooting in Harvey in 2008.
“How ridiculous is this, that I get to spend my birthday with you because my son Tommy Lee is dead,” she said. “It shouldn’t be this way, I should be with my son celebrating.”
The training session was based around a “Survivors Toolkit” created by Survivors Empowered and Giffords.
Survivors Empowered was founded by Sandy and Lonnie Phillips after their daughter Jessica Ghawi Redfield was murdered in the 2012 Aurora, Colorado, mass shooting. The organization helps people affected by gun violence cope both in the short and long term.
One part of the toolkit focuses on the emotional needs of the survivors, offering a roadmap of experiences and feelings they may have and ways to address them. The other part offers suggestions on how to get involved on saving people from gun violence if they choose to go down that path.
“It shows you how to get grounded, how to address trauma in your day to day life, and you know in Chicago we live in trauma, work in trauma,” Bosley said of the toolkit and Tuesday’s training session. “It gave us a moment of peace to be together with other survivors and learn ways to breathe when you are by yourself. It gave us some healing.”
Terrell Bosley, 18, was fatally shot outside Light of Zion Church at 116th and Halsted on April 4, 2006. Pamela Bosley said her son was helping a friend bring drums inside the church when he was killed.
His murder hasn’t been solved, she said. She wore earrings bearing an image of her son to the training session to honor his memory.
Bosley and other members of Purpose Over Pain, including Anthanette Marshbanks, helped spread the word about the training sessions across the city.
Marshbanks’ 20-year-old son Archie Lee Chambers Jr. was fatally shot by Calumet City police in 2012.
“I woke up to a nightmare, and I’m still living in that nightmare to this day, because every day that I wake up or am around other family members there’s always this one person missing,” Marshbanks said. “When that bullet hit him, that bullet killed me also.”
Marshbanks said it took her five years to muster up the strength to change anything in her son’s room. She decided to “start living again” and focus on becoming a better person. She said being around others with similar experiences has helped her live with her grief.
“We don’t have to say a word to each other, we understand the process, we understand the pain and we understand the journey,” Marshbanks said. “Just being around other survivors, it’s physical, emotional and moral support.”