Over a decade ago, October 2007, a Knoxville mother got a phone call that changed her life. Her oldest son, D’juansy D. Freeman, had been stabbed to death.
Two years after, another phone call. This time, about her second oldest, of four sons, Christopher McBath. He was gunned down, she says, shot over 30 times.
“It’s something that you wake up with everyday, that you live with,” said Terry Walker-Smith.
Walker-Smith says she went through the motions, never expecting to lose one son, never thinking of losing two to violent acts.
In the years following their deaths, she says she’s learned about grief — how to cope and how to help.
“It’s not about me. Although I did lose two of my children, but understand, you have other mothers out there who need your support, who need the community. You can’t just say well it wasn’t mine…” said Walker-Smith.
She decided to get involved, to make change at a local, state, and national level.
June 2nd is National Gun Violence Awareness Day, the Knoxville Chapter of Moms Demand Action hosted a #WearOrange picnic in West Hills park to mark the day. Speakers, like Walker-Smith, shared their personal stories to nearly 150 attendees.
Also in attendance, Zenobia Dobson, a friend of Walker-Smith’s — who says they have shared experiences in losing their children. Dobson’s son, Zaevion, killed while protecting his friends from gunfire in 2015.
Walker-Smith says even though the national day is important, this kind of awareness is part of her everyday life.
Through the work of organizations like Moms Demand Action, Million Moms March, and Mothers in Charge — she says she’s been given the support group and community that know how to make change a reality.
“It’s not just gonna take the community, it’s gonna take the community, the justice system. It’s gonna take us all as individuals to come together collectively to make that change,” said Walker-Smith.
One of her goals: justice system reform.
She says she learned through her own experience with the legal system how difficult justice can be. When McBath was killed in 2009, she was still attending trial for the suspects in Freeman’s murder.
“How can you murder somebody and walk the street?” said Walker-Smith.
Walker-Smith has taken trips to Washington D.C. and Nashville to advocate for changes to gun laws and reform for the justice system.
She will be attending training in Philadelphia in July as part of her role as President of the Knoxville Chapter of Mothers in Charge. She’s also written a book, due out this year, to help others deal with loss and grief.