Monique Irvis stands in her dining room, positioned at the helm of a patchwork quilt that’s spread out across the table. A vinyl banner depicting the image of a young man surrounded by seemingly unassociated names and dates overtakes the remainder of the floor space.
She and her family, including daughter Dana Maxwell and best friend, Crystal Bradley, have gathered around the edges of these keepsakes, telling the story of how they came to be. It’s been almost five years since Irvis lost her son Eric to gun violence; nine years since her daughter’s son lost his father in an unrelated incident.
On August 1, 2007, Eric Woods was shot and killed after a basketball game in Southwest Philadelphia. He was one of nine 19-year-olds killed that year in Philadelphia and the first of twelve people killed that August alone.
It’s hard for Irvis to cope with losing a son, but she gathers strength from support programs like the one she attends at Anti-Violence Partnership. But not everyone who loses a family member is entitled to the help. Her grandson wasn’t.
“He didn’t get any of the support that he needed, until I lost my son and he went and got the help through me,” she said. “He didn’t have any of the services because his dad was involved in something that he shouldn’t have been in, at the time when he was killed.”
It’s this inequality that pushed Irvis to begin to lay the groundwork for a new support system, through a nonprofit that she’s already registered with the state and is working to launch called The Wounded Healing Memorial Foundation.
Since her son’s death in 2007, Irvis has begun organizing events. Apart from helping herself cope with the constant fear she feels for the safety of her other children, she’s able to help others who have lost loved ones, and most importantly, to help children who have lost parents.
“I mainly want to focus on the kids,” said Irvis. “Because the kids are the ones who are left behind, and people forget them.”
After being inspired by a similar project for AIDS awareness, Irvis incorporated the quilt into an event that was held in 2008. Each of the children who had lost a parent created a patch that was sewn into a handmade memorial quilt.
“We had a lot of children that that made stuff for their dads,” said Irvis. “And when you see the people just sitting down, putting the quilt together…”
“That was amazing,” said Bradley.
“It was unity,” said Maxwell. “Everybody coming together.”
Knitting in honor of lost
Since 2008, Irvis has worked on a new quilt, one made from commemorative shirts depicting the faces of those who have been lost. It’s a work in progress that she continued at this year’s event, held in August, around the time of the anniversary of her son’s death.
“I wanted to put faces to the victims,” said Irving. “And I wanted it to be big, so that people can see how it has affected us.”
There is currently a $3,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Eric Woods’ killer.