Turning memories into art with people who have lost loved ones to violence

By Leah Nelson, Research Director

The Memorial Chair event included people who had lost loved ones to violence and invited them to decorate folding chairs in their memory

Alabama Appleseed spent much of 2022 and 2023 traveling the state and talking with victims of violent crime. We focused on people from communities that are disproportionately affected by violence but whose voices are not usually centered in Alabama’s endless and endlessly political discussions about crime and punishment. We asked them about themselves and their experiences – and we asked them what they needed in the aftermath of violent victimization.

Pam Moser decorate a chair in honor of her son Brian Rigsby who died in October 2023 while incarcerated at Staton Correctional Facility

Since then, we’ve been finding ways to turn some of those needs into realities. On a policy level, we’ve supported the Crime Victims Compensation Commission (CVCC) in its request for a more sustainable form of funding to ensure quick responses to people in need of emergency assistance with things like funeral expenses for loved ones who died by homicide.

Then there’s the personal work. More than anything else, the survivors and victims we met with needed to talk. They needed professional counseling. They needed grief support groups. They asked us – especially our community navigator who facilitated focus groups and who lost a son to violence herself – to come back and keep the conversation going.

On Saturday, March 2, at St. Peter A.M.E. Church on the west side of Montgomery, we hosted the first of what we hope will be many healing art events.

“If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair,” Rep. Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman elected to Congress, exhorted Americans who wanted to get involved in the political process. 

Decorating a chair for a loved one lost to violence

At Saturday’s Memorial Chair event, we invited people who have lost loved ones to violence to decorate folding chairs in memory of their loved ones. The group included people whose loved ones died by homicide in the free world and those who lost loved ones died preventable deaths in prison. After they created their usable works of art, they broke bread together around a table inside St Peter A.M.E. and offered each other words of comfort and encouragement. There were tears, but also smiles, embraces, and determination to support each other and do everything in their power to make this place we all live in safer and more compassionate.

Appleseed wants to see this project grow and evolve. If you would like to help us host a memorial chair event with people in your community who have lost loved ones to homicide and violence, please reach out to admin@alabamaappleseed.org.

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