OAKLAND (CBS 5) – No one understands the pain of a parent who’s lost a child like another parent who’s already been through it. This week’s Jefferson Award winner has endured that anguish, and is reaching out to bring comfort to others.

After a prayer for peace, teens and young adults took to an Oakland basketball court to “shoot hoops and not guns” in an annual event to remember loved ones who can’t play – because they’re disabled, jailed, or dead.

Organizer Marilyn Washington-Harris lost her son to gun violence. The basketball game is just one way she reaches out to the community through her nonprofit, Khadafy Washington Foundation for Non-Violence. The organization supports survivors of murder victims. She founded it 12 years ago, after her 18-year-old son Khadafy was killed while riding his bicycle outside McClymonds High School, where he’d just graduated.

“I won’t say it’s easier when you lose a grandmother or grandfather. It’s different. It’s different when you lose a child,” Washington-Harris explained.

Off the court, Washington-Harris spends much of her time bringing peace and comfort to families of homicide victims, many of them in Oakland.

“My husband and I, trusting God, just decided this is something we would do,” Washington-Harris said. “We’d start going out to help families.”

Washington-Harris and a handful of volunteers from the Khadafy Foundation contact survivors of Oakland’s murder victims to offer help. She understands firsthand the details parents are too devastated to handle

“The most shocking thing to me was the insurance I had through my job. They wanted me to send them information so that I could prove that I couldn’t kill him myself,” Washington-Harris remembered.

Robin Douglas says Washington-Harris guided her through the trauma after her only child, 21-year-old Lamar, was killed in an attempted carjacking seven years ago.

“She could tell me what this step’s going to be, what that step’s going be,” Douglas said. “You can’t get that from family and friends. You have to get it from someone that’s been through it.”

After John Bishop lost his only son in 2005, he joined the Khadafy Foundation support group.

“She’s been there,” he said of Washington-Harris. “She supports you. She grabs hold of you.”

Washington-Harris also provides financial relief for grieving families. The Khadafy Foundation helps pay for expensive funerals and burials using private donations.

“We’ll pay the funeral home. We’ll buy flowers,” she said. “We’ll support them. Sometimes I’m asked to do eulogies, that way they don’t have to pay anybody. I’ll do it, I’m ordained.”

She says serving hurting families helps her heal from her son’s unsolved murder.

“I really think he’d be proud of me.”

So for providing help, hope, and healing to survivors of homicide victims, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Marilyn Washington-Harris.

(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)


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