PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Movita Johnson Harrell is a warrior woman working to annihilate gun violence.
“I really had to fight all of my life,” she says, “to overcome generations of poverty, generations of substance abuse.”
Harrell’s motivation comes from the pain of loss and the love of those lost.
Both her father and brother are homicide victims and, despite repeated efforts to save her four children from that fate, Harrell buried her youngest son, Charles Andre Johnson, on January 15, 2011 after he was gunned down in a case of mistaken identity.
“When we moved to Lansdowne,” says Harrell, “I thought that we were safe, but it didn’t matter.”
Harrell is referring to the decision she and her husband made in 2008 to leave Southwest Philadelphia. She thought relocating to Delaware County would make a difference. But their ties to Philadelphia were still there.
Eighteen-year-old Charles was killed when he went back to the area to pick up his sister.
“It was devastating….it was devastating,” says Harrell.
Three months after Charles was killed, Movita founded the C.H.A.R.L.E.S. Foundation. The non-profit, which is primarily funded by Harrell and her board and a small group of loyal supporters, provides aid to families who lose a loved one to homicide.
Through word of mouth, these victims learn of the foundation and reach out with volunteers, many victims themselves, providing support.
“It could be going with them to identify the body,” she says, “we also help with planning the funeral- we’ve even paid for funerals when families lost a young person and could not afford it.”
Harrell also holds workshops, working with youth most likely to kill. Her voice is a powerful one at rallies, in Philadelphia City Hall and in Harrisburg where she lobbies for better gun laws. She also empowers other victims to stand up against what she calls a national health crisis.
Last month, Philadelphia’s newly inaugurated district attorney, Larry Krasner, named Harrell his Interim Victims Services Coordinator.
“It is a privilege,” she says, “a homicide victim has never held that seat.”
Harrell says her goal is to ensure other families do not have to lose a loved one in such a tragic way, changing this game through her work to stop the killing.
“No one is going to come in here and save us,” says Harrell, “we have to save ourselves.”
For more on the C.H.A.R.L.E.S. Foundation, go to: https://www.thecharlesfoundation.com/