MIAMI — A mother’s grief on the first anniversary of her daughter’s death by stray bullets turned into a rallying cry in support of women who have lost children to violence with no closure in their tragedies.
The occasion was a commemoration of the life of Kiana Mye Kata’ Nay Smith organized by her mother, La’Shawn Naylor, that drew some 50 people to the apartment complex on Northwest 12th Avenue near Second Place where Smith, 20, died on Nov. 20, 2011.
Naylor said she planned to make it an annual event against violence.“I want to tell other parents that lost their children to keep their head up, look to a bright future and keep God first because, right now, that’s the only thing we can depend on,” Naylor said. Her daughter’s death is just part of a series of difficulties Naylor has been facing. She is a single mother of three — a 26-year-old daughter with four children, and two sons, aged 22 and 25, both of whom are incarcerated.
“I lost my job and then ended up getting evicted from the place where I was staying so I became homeless,” Naylor said. “I am actually at the Lotus House and I’m thankful for their support during this time.”
Overtown community activist and business owner Martha Wells, speaking to the gathering, described Naylor as a testament to strength.
“La’Shawn stepped up to the plate after her daughter passed away and let it be known that every year she wants to say to her community and the people she grew up with that enough is enough,” Wells said.
Wells expressed frustration at the level of criminal violence in the community. She encouraged residents to make use of the HOTSPOT campaign, an anti-violence initiative that allows people to anonymously report crime using a postage-paid postcard.
“There’s not a month that goes by that I don’t hear about somebody’s child being taken by violence and I am sick and tired of it,” said Wells. “The change starts today. We have community programs like HOTPOT where you don’t have to be identified. You don’t have to be known. There are a lot of people who are scared to tell what they know but you don’t have to be a prisoner in your own home.”
“This is our house and we have to take care of it,” said Wells. “It’s not just about what’s behind your four walls; it starts with your neighbor on the sidewalk.
“When people see that you take care of your house, they’ll respect your house.” Kathy Wallace-Davis, whose son Reginald James Wallace was killed in April 2010 in Little Haiti, told the South Florida Times that she is like many other mothers living with the knowledge that their children’s murderers have not been brought to justice.
“It has been two years and my son’s case still has not been solved,” she said. “I’m going crazy every day, just dying inside because I want to know what happened to my son. I need closure.”
Former Overtown resident Tracy Kelly, who now lives in Liberty City and serves as the Vice-President of the Liberty Square Resident Council, said she attended the event not just in memory of her “cousin Kiana” but also to express her support for women such as Naylor and Wallace-Davis who have lost children to violence.
“I am out here to support these women, to support these mothers,” Kelly said. “We need more community groups out there to empower them because they are very broken. We need to be able to give them an outlet and let them know they are not by themselves.”
Donations to memorialize Kiana Mye Kata’Nay Smith may be made to Dade Memorial Park, 1301 Opa-locka Blvd., Opa-locka, FL 33167.