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Los Angeles

Helping Smooth Grief's Jagged Edges

Benefit for groups that aid youths and families of the slain also tries to ease the pain, if just a bit.

August 31, 2003|Stephanie Chavez | Times Staff Writer

The last time Charlotte Austin-Jordan listened to the music of gospel singer Kurt Carr she was at her 13-year-old daughter's funeral. Ja'mee was shot 11 times in 1988 by five gang members in a case of mistaken identity.

"I can hardly even remember the music. That day was so hard," said Austin-Jordan.

On Saturday she was dressed in a creamy white suit and exchanged hugs of joy with friends and family as she prepared for another Carr concert, this one part of an eight-hour gospel music festival at the Los Angeles Coliseum, in part to benefit several L.A. organizations that help families of homicide victims and inner-city youth.

About 14,000 people were moved by the music that lifted them to their feet with raised arms and swaying bodies. The festival, many said, was a rare opportunity to gather in the city and pray in public with thousands of others.

There, inside the Coliseum, as singers belted out songs with lyrics like "for He is good," and "I shall rejoice," it was OK to sing along and display your faith.

For Austin-Jordan, the event reassured her that the pain she feels every day can at least be soothed by music and an outpouring of support from others. Not only did she lose Ja'mee, who loved to sing and was about to join a church choir before her death, but her nephew was murdered and then her son was shot and killed in 1996.

"There is not a day that I don't cry," she said. "But I have learned over time to keep the tears inside."

Since her daughter's death she has devoted herself to helping youth offenders and counseling families trying to cope after a relative's murder. Her organization, Save Our Future, will receive about $25,000 from the concert proceeds, said Timothy Barnett, executive producer of the festival.

"It so important that events like this happen in L.A.," Austin-Jordan said. "So many mothers are losing their children, and at least today we know that people came together to lend us support."

At one point during the concert, promoters introduced the leaders of groups that will benefit from the concert: Loved Ones Victims Services, Project Cry No More, Mothers on the March. Then any mother in the audience whose child had been murdered was asked to come forward for a blessing. Six tearful women walked to the stage.

"We had 15 mothers up there all hugging each other and promising to support each other," said Jalila Larsuel, who helped organize the concert.

"It's been uplifting and even joyous for me to come to this and see that people have really come out for us," said Lela Jones, who began to weep as she described how her 23-year-old son, Torrey, was shot and killed in June in Canoga Park. "He was just walking with a friend."

"Maybe," she said, "this could be the beginning of something new across the city," encouraging witnesses to coming forward with information to help police solve murders like her son's. "We need to stop being afraid."

Fear, however, is not limited to witnesses. One concertgoer, a 43-year-old named Mary, said she had to move after her husband was shot in their frontyard, an unsolved murder. She was so fearful for her safety that she did not want to be identified and said only that she moved "somewhere else" in Los Angeles.

At least for a few hours on Saturday she was able to sing and dance in prayer at her seat. "This has helped to get out, to relax a little and feel that God will help me through this."

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