October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Read and share stories to honor survivors whose lives have been changed by domestic violence.

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Tommy's Ma

In honor of Thomas "Tommy" Lee Thomas R. Lee Memorial Foundation

Tommy loved his family. Tommy loved life and was passionate about living. I never imagined I would have to refer to my son in the past tense. That became reality after Tommy was shot at a store in one of Chicago’s suburbs. I have said if my children died before me, someone would have to put me down beside them. Someone almost had to, because this nearly killed me too.

There are many layers to this new life, but what haunts me is Tommy’s case is solvable yet remains unsolved. Tommy’s friends have purchased their first houses, married with children, and I am reminded of how much he has been cheated out of his goals. Tommy planned to open barber shops. Our family sneak the name of the shops into our writings even if it means chancing incorrect spelling.

As a family, we tried to keep Tommy safe. We had The Talks about STDs, racial profiling, date rape accusations, sexual harassment, street gangs, drugs, felony convictions while simultaneously telling him to respect children, women, elders and the law.

Tommy knew to seek the Lord for himself. Still, we lost him. August 13, 2008, Tommy fought back for his life and the lives of his friends. Today, I fight to save lives. I honor my son with action. Since Tommy’s death, it has become abundantly clear to me that America has a lot of work to do — not just about gun violence itself, but about the narrative surrounding gun violence.

Why are there loopholes that make it so easy to buy a gun with no questions asked? Why aren’t we performing background checks on every single gun sale in the U.S.? Today, I run Thomas R. Lee Memorial Foundation, I’m a volunteer for Moms Demand Action and an Everytown Survivor Lead. One thing I know for sure — a mother’s loss of her child is just as great whether that child died in a mass shooting or at a store in the suburbs of Chicago.

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