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Our mission is to bring together moms who lost their children to crime in the Washington, DC, Metropolitan area. Let’s walk together in peace to free our minds of pain, stress, depression and release the guilt of feeling as though we have failed our children. Let’s fellowship, pray and share great memories of our children. Let’s bond through our pain with other moms who walk the same path toward healing! It’s important to get some professional help sort your fears and live a healthy life.
Author, Speaker, and Entrepreneur
Tonda Wright, author of My Son’s Fugacious Life: Two Murderers, One Conviction, is a powerful force in the community. Through her book, speaking engagements, and building several businesses, Tonda encourages people to create memorable brands and use them to inspire, impact the community, and create opportunity. Her goal is to continue writing books, style her own shoe line, and continue to move in God’s purpose. She’s on a mission to complete her assignment from God.
Black Pearls Magazine: Ms. Wright, first allow us to offer our condolences in the loss of your son Johnquan Douglas Wright (1990-2008). No parent should have to bury their child at such a young age. We are here to provide a platform for you to share your story and how you are coping with your loss more than 10 years later.
I would like to start off by sharing the actual definition for Public Duty Doctrine: “The public duty doctrine provides that a governmental entity cannot be held liable for an individual plaintiff's injury resulting from a governmental officer's breach of a duty owed to the general public rather than to the individual plaintiff.” This will play a huge part in the rest of this interview with Ms. Wright.
BPM: How does this book, My Son's Fugacious Life: Two Murderers, One Conviction, honor your son and his life?
Tonda: As with any tragedy there is always going to be gossip and speculation. I wanted to tell Johnquan’s, my son, story from my perspective—from my eyes. Writing this book was a way I could start to heal, but my primary goal was to inform the public of the careless treatment by the Fire Department after arriving at the scene of my son’s murder.
Tonda: I always encouraged Johnquan to write about his pain and frustrations—to write about his life through his own lens. I hoped that his writing would be a way for him to creatively cope with not having his father around to guide him in handling peer pressure and the negative views society forces on today’s young men.
The particular poem, that’s in the book and shared here, is one of the most descriptive one of his poems and best conveys how he felt. Prayerfully, at a later date, I will be able to publish some of his other works that might be an inspiration for other young men to put their feelings and issues on paper.
BPM: Your book details what it was like for you to get the call that your son was shot. That call is feared by most parents! Most parents feel as if this is “the worst that can happen.” What were your first steps? Looking back now, how do you think you regrouped after that first call?
Tonda: It’s hard to really put my first steps and thoughts together where others can really understand me unless they have been in this position, but anger is the first thing I remember. Angry with God, not believing my son was dead, asking myself how he could not survive considering I spent my life working as an Emergency Medical Technician helping to save so many others.
After that first call, I had to turn to my support team, family and close advisers to just keep it together and handle the business of laying my son to rest. I was so fully charged with finding out what exactly happened to him and why, it sustained me when physically and mentally I was struggling.
BPM: Was there ever a time where you felt like “I have to survive this to fight for my son's legacy?”
Tonda: Every single day from the time of his death and beyond, I’ve felt like I have to do this, survive this, speak on this and advocate for others in his name. I could not sit by and silently let the system kill him for the second time!
I never really wanted to sue over this matter. No monetary amount could fix this or bring Johnquan back, but I knew a lawsuit was the only way to bring the people responsible for his ultimate death to the table to talk to me. I also wanted the public to hear the real story behind Johnquan death that went beyond what was initially reported in the papers. All I wanted was an apology for mistakes that were made on the day of the shooting. Once I realized no one was going to be culpable or own their mistakes, I was forced to protect my son’s legacy and to lay all the cards on the table for people to see and use however they saw fit.
BPM: This is a tough question to ask, but how do you grieve and recover from the death of a child? Bereaved parents need to work through their grief in their own way and in their own time, but how did you start the process?
Tonda: Everyone grieves on their own terms and the supporters need to understand there are so many stages of grief; at times I was living out 2 or 3 of them simultaneously. I had to live out all the stages— anger, denial, bargaining/guilt, depression, moving beyond the pain to find meaning for what’s next and acceptance.
The anger and depression were the most debilitating at times. I first had to get past blaming myself for not being there as a mother to protect my child. The coulda-woulda-shouldas almost got the best of me. Like other parents who have lost a child due to a traumatic situation, I had to get beyond feeling as a failure as a parent, as his mother. It took some time, but I began the process by understanding that I had to live to fight for my son even though he was gone.
BPM: After 10 years, do you feel as if you have healed from the pain?
Tonda: Healing cannot be assigned a timetable, for sure, but I do believe I’m still healing each day. Let's be clear, when I speak about healing, I don’t mean I’m never sad. It means I’m more equipped to move forward in life from a healthier state.
Sometimes things happen to bring back a bit of the pain, such as his birthdays, holidays or even looking at his daughter, who is so much like him and looks like me.
BPM: What was your support system like during the healing process?
Tonda: Everyone in the family was affected by the loss of Johnquan, I have another child, and my son had a small daughter as well. My child’s death was a family loss, I know this, but I’m a loner. Coping with this pain alone feels better at times. Sometimes writing feels more comfortable to me than talking or turning to others.
I do have truly close, loyal friends who understand my need for solitude and space; they are there when I need them, whenever I reach out to them. My friends and family were there to uplift me as I dealt with funeral plans, sitting through the trial and they were great sounding boards as I worked through the final lawsuit.
BPM: Did you join any support groups for bereaved parents?
Tonda: I didn’t join any formal support groups but I did seek therapy. Since grief is so complicated when a child dies, I realized that it was important not to solely handle the depression alone. Professional help worked better for me, in a private setting.
BPM: Let's talk about your book. I know that it had to be hard reliving that dreadful day when Johnquan was taken away on August 14, 2008, what was the writing process like for you? How long did it take you to write the book?
Tonda: It only took me about 6 months to write “My Son’s Fugacious Life: Two Murderers, One Conviction.” I was so eager to get his story out so it could help others who needed to heal after the loss of a loved one.
I also needed people to fully understand what I was going through at that time as a single parent and how I was able to survive it all. I hope other parents can use my story, his story, in such a way that it makes their journey just a little easier.
BPM: Did you work with your family in writing this book? Did your daughter have any input? The death of a sibling is often traumatic. I pray that she is in a safe mental space after the loss of her brother.
Tonda: Murder shattered assumptions of what our world should be. Life is forever altered once that one word begins the evolution of your life as you know it now.
This story was too close, too personal for me to consult with others. No, I didn’t seek any input from outside the family nor did I seek input from my daughter. I shared the facts and I tried to deliver my son’s story with one single focus based only on our shared experiences.
BPM: How did your family feel about such a passionate and personal part of their lives now being open to the public?
Tonda: My family was happy to see me putting my pain and struggles out into the world, since I’m such a private person. His father on the other hand had a lot of negative things to say about the book, but had very little input into his son’s life.
BPM: Any advice for other parents on how social media impacts those first days of loss or dealing with the grief process?
Tonda: Clearly if you don’t put your story, your business on the web, someone else will. Having people who never met my son speculating on what led to his death was traumatic enough, social media was not a place I thought to go for solace.
But, I realize that for other parents, they can find unity with groups of like minded people on the social media platforms. I understand that they can find support and start movements that get results. My only advice to those parents, tell YOUR own truths and seek out the hardcore facts and don’t be swayed by multitudes of stories you might read or hear!
BPM: Once the house was quiet and the activities were over, how did you survive the trial of the convicted killer, the lawsuit over his death and still work within the Fire Department? Did you ever feel as if your life would never return to “normal?”
Tonda: My son’s story had to be told at any cost! I had to get the facts, the truth, about how so many bad calls were made that ended in my child dying. Failure to proceed was not an option. There were challenging moments at work but I was not going to stop working to bring these grievances to the public.
I still feel to this day that life will never be normal again—I’m just dealing with a new kind of normal. They say time heals wounds, we’ll see. My amazing friends and my praise of God are the leading factors in my moving forward in a healthier space. I always knew I would get better, I didn’t know it would take this long!
BPM: My grandmother often said, “Don’t judge your grief!” Did you ever grapple with the notion that you could have done more in raising your children in some way? How did you handle any depression or negative self-talk?
Tonda: As a single parent the guilt of having to work so hard to give my children a better life was always a nagging issue because it bothered me being away from them so much. At times, it seems as if you can’t win. If you don’t work what does their life look like? If you leave them with others so you can work, how do you deal with the outside influences of their lives and decisions?
I sought counseling for the depression after Johnquan’s death and it’s helping. But, like millions of parents across the world—grappling with the doubt and questioning takes time to deal with. Those days of negative self talk come, but you have to push back and make a decision to be kind to yourself because you did the best you could do with what you had. Embrace your imperfections in life, own you mistakes and move forward.
BPM: Did the lawsuit and ultimate fallout after your son’s death bring about some type of awareness in the community? Do you think your case will change how Public Duty Doctrine is used or how first responders will handle future cases?
Tonda: No, my case will not change any policies in DC. Several people in my case went on to be promoted in the Fire Department even. I was a first responder for many years, I would never discredit what they offer society, but I must bring to light that mistakes are made and the authorities need to take responsibility by addressing the families.
When agencies are called on the carpet for lags in their services, I want the public to know just what they are facing when it comes to policy, the legal system and how their rights should be claimed.
BPM: What kind of impact do you hope to have with this book? Do you want to encourage people to talk to their teenagers about the book?
Tonda: Yes, I want people to talk to their teens and even let them read this story. We need our kids to understand their decisions can impact the lives of everyone around. Lives can be ended and shattered within minutes!
The teens need to understand the consequences of overreacting, allowing peer pressure to drive their emotions and the chances of being imprisoned for the rest of their lives. Lying, bullying, gossiping and pulling out a gun will all change the scope of life.
Not only has the family of the murdered child suffered, but once the killer is convicted and sent to prison, that family now is serving time as well. There are no positive takeaways from murder.
I encourage families, educators or community leaders to take this book and use it as a teaching tool. I hope any parent living out my same painful tale will find hope and solace in the fact you will live, things will stabilize and you will survive to tell YOUR story YOUR way.
BPM: Now that you are a motivational speaker, what is your hope for the future, and where do you see the journey going from here?
Tonda: I was on Instagram and saw a banner that said, “I wish Black Lives Mattered to Black People.” I shared it because that stung. Plenty of people feel this way because of what we see in the news and the stories we discuss around our own dinner tables. There are so many movements that are fighting for our people, but WE have to see the value in the movements and in saving ourselves!
I want to be a resource! I want to speak to groups to help people understand the grieving process, I want to uplift families fighting for justice and most importantly, I want to be an example. Parents need to know you can fight back, you can win, you can openly share your stories and allow others to find peace in your words.
The more visibility that I gain with this book, the more questions I hope are asked in higher places; the more people I can encourage to become strong enough to speak up and out; and prayerfully there will be lives saved or redeemed by reading my child’s story.
BPM: What’s next for you? How can readers discover more about you and your work so that we can serve you?
Tonda: I have an author’s website found at http://tondawright.com that has links to my social media pages and readers can read more about ordering the book.
What’s most important for me is for readers to get the book and to go out in the community and talk about it. Inform others about the laws and the facts listed in the book. Open up a conversation about what parents and those left behind face.
The book is on Kindle so you can send it to people via email as a gift. They can use the Amazon Kindle app on any device or PC to read the book immediately. If you know of a family facing the journey I’ve been on, have them contact me.
I’m asking the community to help me, help others. I would like for civic organizations, libraries, schools, Women Prisons and Youth Crisis Centers to bring me in to speak about the following topics:
Coping With the Loss of a Child to Murder
· Embracing the Future After Losing a Child
· Harnessing the Power of Prayer
· Coping with Depression After Losing a Child
· Finding Hope After Losing a Child: Evolve, Adapt, Empower
· Grieving the Death of a Child: Emotional Responses to their Death
· Helping Mothers Manage Their Grief and Return to Work