DeShola Dawkins’ son was shot and killed in Southeast D.C. eight years ago, but the memory is still vivid in her mind.
“It was like a knot in my stomach, like somebody punched me in my stomach as hard as they could and tore my heart out, all at the same time,” she recently recalled.
Timothy Dawkins was a 24-year-old community activist and mentor working along his friend and current D.C. Council Member Trayon White to stop D.C. violence.
It was D.C. violence that took his life when he was 24. He was caught in cross-fire on Fourth Street SE in August 2013, as he walked home.
“It’s something you don’t wish on your worst enemy,” his mother said.
Losing a child is “a million times worse than you ever thought it would feel,” said Eric Weaver. He lost his son Eric Weaver Jr. to gun violence in March 2019. Someone dropped off the 30-year-old at a hospital and drove off. The homicide remains unsolved.
Eric Weaver Sr. said his pain is unbearable sometimes.
“Some days I’m thinking about it and I have to pull over on the side of the road,” he said.
Weaver and his son had just started to build a relationship after being apart for decades.
“I was incarcerated for a long time. My son was born while I was incarcerated. Then when I came home, he was incarcerated,” the father said. “We were just building that bond, and a year later, he was killed. So I feel like even though he was 30 years old when he got killed, to me he was still a baby because we only got that year together.”
In that year, Eric Weaver Jr. joined his father in becoming a community leader and advocate, working to redirect the lives of men recently released from incarceration. The father and son both appeared on the News4 Your Sunday program, speaking with Pat Lawson Muse for a segment on their first and only Father’s Day.
In the midst of their grief, DeShola Dawkins and Eric Weaver Sr. are finding ways to honor their sons and call their communities to act.
“I don’t think people are listening to people who lost children. Until it happens to you — that’s when you listen. I was guilty of that. ‘I didn’t ever lose a child. That was their problem,’” Dawkins recalled thinking. “But it’s not just their problem; it’s everybody’s problem. Regardless of whether you lost a child or not, you should be involved in fighting for gun violence issues.”
Dawkins started the organization Next Level Vision, aiming to help groups with similar missions join forces, network and amplify their voices to help solve their common problem: gun violence.
“It takes a village to raise a child, and so being a part of the village, that means you’re getting yourself involved. You’re making your voice heard, and you’re not just sitting on the sidelines and watching life go by,” Dawkins said.
Weaver called for “people to take ownership in this community — mainly for people who were once part of the problem.”
He admits he was once part of the problem but says he’s been part of the solution for decades, as founder of the group the National Association for the Advancement of Returning Citizens.
Members of the group are out in communities daily, “identifying high-risk youth and trying to do stuff to get their risk down,” Weaver said. He called for holistic solutions.
“I think a lot of times we focus on what happened instead of why,” he said. “What have those people experienced? What are they going through? What have they been through? We just don’t wake up one day and just become this person that does these things.”
As Dawkins and Weaver work to stop the gun violence that took their sons’ lives, they know there’s no overnight solution.
“People tell me that I’m strong, but I’m not,” Dawkins said. “I’m just trying to make a difference. I’m just trying to change the culture of our people from gun violence to love."
“Keep fighting, because you ain’t lost until you stop,” Weaver said. “We just have to keep fighting and doing what we can do for our community.”