MIAMI – For singer Betty Wright, it was no pain, no gain. On Dec. 24, 2005, Wright’s son, Patrick Parker, dropped her off at the Port of Miami, where she would embark on a four-day cruise. The famed singer kissed her son goodbye, not knowing it was the last time she would see her 21-year-old son.
“I remember getting that call on the ship at around 4’clock in the morning,” Wright recalled. “It was from a drummer from my band. He said, ‘Betty, you need to come home right away.’ When I got home, I was told my son was dead.”
Parker, one of five of Wright’s children, was fatally shot that Christmas Day eight years ago during a dispute at a party in Opa-locka.
Away from the glittering lights and high-energy performances, Wright, a Miami native known for her strength and resilience demonstrated in her hit song Clean up Woman, told her story and pain of losing her son to gun violence in chilling detail to an audience of about 150 attending a Martin Luther King Jr. Forum Sunday at the Joseph Caleb Center, 5400 NW 22nd Ave. in Miami’s Liberty City community.
Wright then sang a song she wrote called Dry Well dedicated to her son. Wright was among several celebrities on a unique five-member panel at a non-violence forum hosted by Congresswoman Frederica-Wilson, in conjunction with the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice and Wilson’s 5000 Role Models of Excellence Project.
Actor Charles Roc Dutton from hit TV series Roc and actress JoMarie Payton from the hit series Family Matters, who grew up in Opa-locka, were also on the panel. They were joined by Queen Brown, an activist who lost her son, Eviton to gun violence, and Chanae Forshee, whose 12-year-old niece, Tequila, was killed by a stray bullet at her Miami Gardens home.
Hot 105 Radio personality Rodney Baltimore moderated the forum which included a short video presentation, Will I Be Next, a montage of interviews with parents and friends who lost loved ones to gun violence.
The discussion was filled with testimonies that gave warnings and advice to parents on how to protect their children from the dangers of the streets.
“The last conversation I had with my son was about his future,” said Brown, who said her son was killed an hour after he left home with his cousin to cash a check. “Unbeknown to me, that was the last 59 minutes in his life,” she said.
Before he became a successful actor, Dutton, the event’s keynote speaker, served a total of 10 years in prison for possession of a deadly weapon and manslaughter after killing a man he says attacked him. “I enjoyed violence,” Dutton said. “I came from a lineage of hell-raisers.”
While in prison at 17, Dutton accidently discovered a book on black playwrights and enjoyed reading it so much he persuaded the warden to allow him to create a drama club and stage plays in prison.
He went on to earn an associate’s degree while in prison and, after his release, he earned a master of arts from the prestigious Yale School of Drama, where actress Angela Bassett was a fellow student.
Dutton said he began to change when he completed his associate’s degree. “I was now beginning to rediscover my own humanity,” he said. “Once you start caring about your own humanity, your start caring about others.”
Payton said one solution to gun violence is tough love, letting youths learn from the consequences of their own mistakes.
“Sometimes you have to let them learn a life lesson,” she said.
Chanae Forshee urged the gathering to not be afraid to report crime in their community. “Do your part,” she said. “Step up to the plate and do what you can do.”