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A mother forgave her son's killer. Now she writes poems to honor victims of gang violence

Laura Rodríguez Presa, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Parenting News

CHICAGO -- On a small table adjacent to a red couch, Doris Hernandez keeps the last photo of her late son amid dozens of crosses, a rosary and a Bible with worn pages bearing the weight of countless prayers.

Hanging on the wall is a card he gave her as a child for Mother’s Day.

There’s also a gold notebook that she keeps on top of the couch. Within its pages, penned with ink, grief and resilience, are hundreds of poems. Each verse is a tribute to her son’s memory, a whispered promise to keep his essence alive. They’re an orison to heal the wounds of mothers who, like her, have felt the searing pain of losing a child to gang violence in Chicago’s Little Village.

“The soul hurts,” she wrote two years after her son, Freddy Cervantes, 20, was shot in the face and chest while standing in an alley. He was part of a gang.

“It’s not a physical pain that my mind can control, it’s an anguish in the soul that medicine cannot cure. It is not the shadows of the deaths that make me feel lonely, it’s more of the sadness of not being able to see you, to hear you,” the poem read.

Devastated by her loss, Hernandez, 66, found solace and strength through poetry. She began to write, channeling her emotions into verses that pay tribute to the suffering of a community in Chicago that has been plagued by gang and gun violence for decades. There are more than 200 poems about her son and his friends, most of whom have been killed or are in jail, she said.


She’s also written about their mothers and their pain, humanizing stories that have been turned into numbers and lost to a narrative that has normalized the killings in Little Village.

“There were many nights where I couldn’t sleep because I couldn’t stop thinking about my son. I found peace in writing these poems, but I never thought they would make it out of my notebook,” Hernandez said. “Now I realize that they’re an ode to a beautiful community that suffers, but is resilient.”

Though she’s afraid she’ll forget the sound of her son’s voice one day, she still remembers seeing her son’s blood being washed off the pavement as she pleaded to other young people there to let go of their thirst for retribution, for she had already forgiven the killer.

The very first time she read one of her poems in public was the day in 2013 when she announced she’d founded “Padres Angeles” or “Parent Angels,” to parishioners at St. Agnes of Bohemia Parish, 2651 S. Central Park Ave. Driven by a desire to prevent other families from experiencing the same heartache, she founded the grassroots organization to violence prevention in her community. Its mission is to support parents who have lost children to gun violence and to empower young people to choose a different path.


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