While the city slept and soaked in the rain and fog of the first Saturday of 2021, hoping to leave the destruction of 2020 in the past, Sevhn Doggette, founder of Mommies Matter 2 Kyyri, marched alongside her fellow “Angel Mommies,” all of whom had lost loved ones to gun violence in Charlotte
They marched for their sons and for their loved ones. They marched for those who have died at the barrels of guns –– held by fellow community members, former friends, enemies over nothing. They marched for those who have yet to see justice, still awaiting trials years after the violent acts that took their lives.
The crowd for the march was small, much smaller than Sevhn had hoped for. Around 50-60 people gathered in Marshall Park — teenagers with signs, mothers with photos of their deceased sons — with an entourage of CMPD officers ready to escort the pack up East 3rd Street to Romare Bearden Park, where DJ Blessed would perform and the mothers would speak on their deceased children’s behalf.
Marching, Sevhn said out loud the names of those who’d been lost to gun violence in Charlotte as the crowd yelled them back. “Say their name!” she screamed into the empty city streets and the people marched on.
A mother myself, I dreaded this march. I parked my car along the street, watching others walk into the crowd, wondering which had lost loved ones and which were there for support, wondering how I could share space with women who were in more pain than I could ever imagine. Though we’ve had our share of physical and emotional ailments, my family is alive and well and the thought of losing any of them is more than I can bear.
I marched on the outskirts, observing, hoping to keep my composure as the mothers shifted from righteous indignation to sorrow to camaraderie. I knew — or I hoped — I could never fully understand the breadth of their emotions, faced with the loss of someone with whom they’d once shared a body.
As we made our way to Romare Bearden Park, the marchers stopped at certain points, allowing the mothers to stand in the street and address those who had shown up. At one such juncture, Sevhn looked out at the small crowd. She stood in front of us, staring intently as she held a green urn with silver filigree details that held the remains of her oldest son. She addressed us, full of emotion: “Tell your friends to put the guns down. Tell them they don’t want to do this to their mothers, to somebody else’s mother. This is how I spend holidays and birthdays: I talk to my baby in an urn.”
The chants of “No bonds for murderers” rang out in the empty streets, in a wet and cold park in Uptown as mothers called for reform and change on behalf of their murdered sons. “A bond of $50,000 and you pay $5,000 to walk the streets and spend holidays with your family while we talk to our children in urns? Is that what our children are worth? $5,000?” Sevhn asked.
Though her son’s murderer is still behind bars awaiting trial, other alleged killers walk free.
“The law books say you’ve got to have a bond?” Sevhn said. “Make that bond $1 million dollars. Make it to where no one can pay it. We’ve got to keep these monsters off the streets. We’ve got to see a change. Minimum life sentence is 20 years? Raise it to 50. Make it to where these kids think before they pull the trigger before another mommy becomes an Angel Mommy and never gets to see their child again.”
Of those in attendance, only two elected officials showed up: Mecklenburg County Commissioner at-large Pat Cotham (a “sweet soul”, Sevhn said) and Mecklenburg County Sheriff Garry McFadden. What does this apparent apathy tell the mothers of gun violence in Charlotte?
“That nobody cares,” Sevhn said.
Sevhn loses a son
On Aug. 8, 2017, Kyyri Doggette stopped in to see his long-time barber, Jampiero “Jay” Galan, owner of Diamond Image Cutz Barber Shop on East Independence Boulevard who he hadn’t seen in a few months. He had last spoken to his mother, Sevhn, two days prior, telling her that he had been informed he’d won Best New Artist for the upcoming Carolina Music Awards.
“Ma,” he said, “you going with me to the awards show?”
“Of course I’m going, baby,” Sevhn replied.
Performing under the stage name Ree Da Don, Kyyri was making a name for himself in the local hip-hop scene. After performing with various groups, at his mother’s advice — herself a singer, familiar with the industry — Kyyri had gone solo, his mother warning him how the jealousy, control and negativity of others could put out his spark. She suggested going solo would give him a bit of creative freedom.
As he branched out on his own, Kyyri found himself more committed to the industry, all of his creative focus pouring into his writing. His involvement in the industry had grown from a hobby to a passion, guiding his life trajectory with the support of his family and the industry that surrounded him. In that last conversation he’d had with his mom, he told her on his way out the door, “There’s this one last thing — I’ve got to understand the business side of all of this. Then I’m going to buy you a house.”
Sevhn smiled and kind of chuckled at his naivety. “That’s good but if I can keep you around I’ll just stay in an apartment,” she replied. Kyyri smiled and headed out to his friend’s house, neither he nor Sevhn knowing this would be their last encounter.
At Diamond Image Cutz two days later he sat with Galan. Galan had reached out a few weeks earlier to his client of seven years after Kyyri had missed out on a few of his bi-weekly cuts.
“I remember him telling me he was having problems with someone and that’s why he wasn’t in the shop,” Galan says. Unbeknownst to Galan, this person, unnamed by Kyyri at the time, was a client at the shop. Kyyri was laying low.
The true happenings of the day Kyyri was killed remain unknown. The details may not come out until after the trial, or never at all. Any news article from that case states only the facts the police have written up in public reports: “Convicted felon charged in deadly shooting…” “A second suspect is arrested…” “A third suspect charged…”
Though he was there on the day it happened, Galan himself is still at a loss to understand the full story. He saw nothing amiss in the shop that day. Kyyri had finally come in for that long-overdue cut and they did what they always did; Kyyri talked to Galan about his music and the two caught up about other happenings in their lives. Kyyri again mentioned he’d been having problems with someone and, again, didn’t mention a name. According to Galan, after the cut was done, Kyyri stepped outside to move his car.
“It all happened so fast, no one knew what was happening,” Galan says.
Shortly after Kyyri stepped outside, Galan and his employees heard gunfire. He told everyone to stay inside and they waited, crouching down, unsure whether the shop was a target. They sat in silence for moments that felt like an eternity, waiting in shock, hopeful the shooting was over. Once silence fell, Galan stood up and headed toward the door, looked out into the evening light and headed across the parking lot to where Kyyri’s car sat. That’s where he found him, dead of a gunshot wound.
“I’ve still got it in my head like it was yesterday,” he says.
Not long after, the police arrived and announced Kyyri dead on the scene, Charlotte’s 55th of the year. Everyone from the barbershop was sent back inside while police investigated. As far as Galan can tell from the surveillance videos he later viewed, “The guy who killed him came from out of nowhere.”
As time went on, it became clear Kyyri knew his killer or, at least, his killer knew him. All interactions between the two are speculative, as Kyyri had only spoken vaguely of the disputes. Sevhn speculates it was a dispute fueled by jealousy. Galan believes the person with whom Kyyri was having issues is the one who pulled the trigger. All that’s certain is that it was senseless.
Though Kyyri had told Galan of this vague beef he was dealing with, Galan had never heard of Kyyri having issues with anyone else prior.
“He was quiet all the time, always chill,” Galan says, “He was always cool with everybody.”
When he was sitting in Galan’s chair, he sang constantly and talked about his music career, showing Galan his YouTube videos. Galan would make sure to play Kyyri’s music in the shop so his other clients could hear, to show Kyyri support and to listen to the creations of the talented musician he’d known for so many years.
Sevhn remembers Kyyri with the love and adoration of a mother daily impressed with and proud of her child.
The oldest of three and the father of three himself, Sevhn says Kyyri was always being silly, doing voice impersonations that would have her in tears laughing, and always trying to father his now 19-year-old sister.
“She’d come out into the living room and he’d be like ‘Nope. Where’d you get those pants? They are too tight. You’re not going anywhere’ and I’m laughing and saying ‘Leave her alone’,” Seven says, “I could hear them from across the house. He’d always be on her like ‘Boyfriend? Who is this boyfriend?’”
A talented artist, Kyyri would show up for his younger siblings to help with book reports, drawing elaborate recreations of book covers. As a father, Kyyri could be found rolling to the floor with his kids or taking his namesake son, Kyyri (“No ‘Junior’”, Sevhn says) to get his hair cut by Galan. A song on his lips, a smile in his eyes, Kyyri cared for his family and community, was making his way into his industry and was excited to share his life and success with those he loved and they all loved him for it.
That August 2017 night, right around 7:30 p.m., the laughing, the impersonations, the overprotective brother, the music — it all came to a permanent stop.
A deadly year for gun violence in Charlotte
CMPD recorded 122 homicides in 2020, a number that’s subject to change as investigations move forward. There were also six “justified” homicides, usually referring to a killing carried out in self-defense in which no one was charged, plus accidental shootings like that of 5-year-old Amani Barringer in a north Charlotte hotel in September. All in all, more than 110 people lost their lives to gun violence in Charlotte last year (in the map below, black and green markers indicate shootings).
This massive loss is not an abstract idea; these numbers have names. We hear the statistics climb from 100 to 120, reaching a total the city hasn’t seen since 1993, and we shake our heads or wonder what can be done. Meanwhile, more and more mothers mourn, their lives scarred forever.
Sheriff McFadden, known to the Angel Mommies by his first name, spoke at Saturday’s rally: “I could have been having a nice breakfast with my wife on this Saturday and I can’t bring myself to do it when I know these mothers are suffering. We have to show up for them and we have to show up for our community.”
“This can’t be politically motivated and it can’t be seasonal,” McFadden later told me. “Our citizens are upset because elected officials come out for political campaigning but the community wants us to be more connected. We need to relate. Come into their world when the cameras are gone. Sit and talk to them. Find out what’s really going on.”
Commissioner Cotham said she attends as many homicide funerals as she can. “I don’t really do that much,” she said, “it’s just that so many others do so little.” When attending these funerals, people stop her and say they have seen her at the funerals for a few people they’ve known. All she can say in response is “Oh my God, you know more than one.”
These mothers carry their children as a part of their physical bodies for nine months — carry them in their arms as infants, carry them emotionally through life’s difficulties and then carry them in urns as they look into the eyes of their fellow mourners begging for change, into the eyes of the few officials in attendance begging for reform.
Sevhn wants to see kids in schools taught anger management. McFadden wants to see officers building relationships with the community. Galan wants to see officers in his shop building relationships and ensuring their community they are safe and supported. They all want to see city leaders step up to make the violence that’s plaguing our communities a priority.
This year, the city has moved forward with multiple programs that officials hope will make a dent in community violence. The SAFE Charlotte plan, which is being implemented mainly to focus on “reenvisioning police,” includes a $1-million investment in local anti-violence nonprofits, while the Chicago-based violence-interruption program Cure Violence is currently working with the city to assess how it might work with people on the ground to put a stop to the killing.
While these plans plod ahead, people continue to die. The last 21 days of the year saw 15 killings alone, showing that the pace of violence is not slowing down.
The second day of 2021 was a call by Sevhn and her organization, Mommies Matter 2 Kyyri, for reform. She was discouraged by the fact that the crowd numbered only about half of the number of killings our city saw in 2020. Was it COVID? Maybe, but people were in the streets for a number of causes throughout the year and we cannot let 2021 be like the preceding years.
Sevhn believes it starts at the ground level, by teaching kids anger management. It starts with voters electing those who show up for the community versus showing up for profit and lip service. It starts with the people being aware that gun violence statistics don’t start and stop with numbers.
“In the Black community, we have been taught to pray and push through, that if you go to therapy, it’s like you don’t want anyone to think you’re crazy,” Sevhn said. She herself has had to learn how to cope with pain and push through the external fear of being deemed weak or not faithful.
“Being in therapy doesn’t mean you’re crazy; it means you need someone to talk to. And you need to find someone you mesh with,” Sevhn says. “We have to learn coping skills in the same way these children need to learn coping skills before they pull a trigger.”
When she received the call of Kyyri’s death, Sevhn left her shift at Citibank and screamed the whole way down South Tryon Street. She’ll never forget that feeling, the feeling of her soul being ripped from her physical being, knowing that a part of her has been ripped out, never to be replaced. Now, she is doing everything she can on a daily basis to make the grief manageable, not to let the sadness go away.
“It’s a roller coaster ride you never wanted to get on,” she said.
After the march on Saturday, Sevhn returned to Marshall Park alone and talked to her son by the water. She felt him say, “Ma, you’ve always had my back and I know you still do,” and she was reminded she’s on the right path, regardless of the numbers — that her actions are making a difference.
Her son provides her comfort in these times, though she knows he should still be here. As friends and family surrounded her after his death, a new coworker brought over brownies and shared her condolences. Sevhn later sent a text message and a photo to thank her, to which the coworker responded simply, “omg”.
Not understanding the message, Sevhn called her. The woman’s husband picked up the phone and eventually explained that his wife had dreamt for two consecutive nights about a man who made the same repeated request: “Tell my mom I’m good.” The woman would wake up in tears, stating that she didn’t know his mom … until she saw Kyyri’s picture.
“This is the man from her dreams,” the husband told Sevhn.
Sevhn hears Kyyri’s voice in a variety of ways now, believing he sends those she needs to connect with, but she will never hear his physical voice again. Neither will the mothers of the 122 who were killed in 2020, the 107 from 2019, the 57 from 2018 and the list goes on.
“You don’t just take Kyyri when you pull the triggers, and it’s not just affecting his mom,” Sevhn said. “You’ve got a mom, too, so what about her? Are you thinking about her? No. All you’re thinking is ‘I’m mad right now’ and that’s it.”
The permanence of these decisions must be made apparent and it starts at a ground level. In addition to her plans for an annual Mega Mommy March, she hopes to work with children and teens to teach them alternatives to violence and give them something to look forward to.
Sheriff McFadden said it starts with knowing your community — with the commitment of city leaders and officials.
“Does it have to touch us personally for it to matter?” he asked. “It’s emotionally draining but we have to do it, we have to make a difference.”
We may not all be affected by Charlotte’s spike in gun violence. Many of us can go to our safe neighborhoods in our safe homes with our home security systems. We can sigh and shake our head at the numbers, balking at what it would be like should we lose a child before shaking the thought from our minds and continuing about our lives.
Not everyone is so lucky. The violence comes unannounced like a rogue wave, wiping out the unsuspecting families in its wake, keeping them underwater and fighting for air.
Just because we haven’t been affected doesn’t mean we the citizens or the elected officials can turn our heads to avoid the avoidable pain others are experiencing. As a community, we have to make a change. We have to manage our anger, teach others to manage theirs, take responsibility for our communities and vote like our lives depend on it, for those who can prove they care about the ones suffering most. We must realize we are one people, one community, putting ourselves in the shoes of others from whom we’re not far removed.
It could happen to any of us, as Sevhn chillingly reminded me: “The knock is different when it’s at your door.”
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