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Tora Washington on Coping After Loss of Daughter to Gun Violence

Tora Washington said there isn't a day she doesn't think about her daughter. (Amarr Croskey, For The Birmingham Times)

By Nicole S. Daniel

The Birmingham Times

This is another installment in The Birmingham Times/AL.com/CBS42 joint series “Beyond the Violence: What can be done to address Birmingham’s rising homicide rate.” Sign up for the newsletter here.

Tora Washington, mother of Destiny Danielle Washington, 20, the nursing student who was shot and killed on the University of Alabama of Birmingham (UAB) campus, said the death of her daughter is a daily grieving process.

“Grief is hard, and it doesn’t go away,” she said. “I just cope. I get up every day and go [through] the motions. I put one foot in front of the other. I’m continuously in prayer because your mind plays tricks on you. I grieve every day of my life.”

Those days have included holidays and some—like Mother’s Day, which is on May 14—are particularly difficult for Washington.

“Mother’s Day is probably the hardest holiday for me,” she said. “It’s very difficult … because I’m used to [Destiny] calling, coming by, or [giving me] a Mother’s Day gift. … I don’t receive that anymore, but I do go to the gravesite to visit her.

“Since 2020, there has not been a day that I haven’t grieved. There hasn’t been a day that I don’t think about my baby. There hasn’t been a day I haven’t said, ‘Oh, how I wish my baby was here.’ I go to sleep thinking about her. I wake up thinking about her.”

Destiny Danielle Washington

In December 2020, the Jefferson County Coroner’s Office identified Destiny. When she first learned about her daughter’s death, Washington told herself, “This can’t be happening to me. This happens to other people. This can’t be happening to my family. I was in denial, but when I got out of the denial phase I became angry.”

“There are so many emotions you have, and they [can be] hard to explain,” she continued. “The loss of a child is the worst pain ever. People lose children from sickness, car accidents, and they are all hurtful. But when it’s a traumatic, unexpected death, you have to learn a different way of coping and processing it.”

In April 2022, Carlos Stephens, 24, was convicted of capital murder in the slaying of the 20-year-old nursing student. The conviction was vacated and Stephens pleaded guilty to a lesser charge. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

Washington said the first trial was grueling. “Who wants to go in and look at their child on a screen on a gurney with a number across their chest saying deceased?”

The grieving mom is aware of the homicides that continue to plague the city: “The number of homicides that have been committed in Birmingham is mind-blowing. It’s hard for me to watch the news because it brings back so many memories of Destiny.”

Birmingham ended 2022 with the families and friends of 144 homicide victims left grieving. The year was deadliest in recent history and only a few homicides short of being the deadliest in the Magic City’s entire history.

As a teacher with Tarrant City School District, Washington believes the community should come together and figure out how to teach conflict-resolution strategies that can help prevent gun violence.

“I think we need to go into middle and high schools to talk about gun violence,” Washington said. “Through community involvement, we need to have resources available [to treat] mental illnesses and [teach about] anger management. I think a lot of this stems from unresolved issues—whether at home or at school, or [whether someone is] feeling left out or wanting to be part of something—and not knowing how to handle issues in a way that doesn’t involve pulling a gun. They don’t know how to handle conflict. Some people have the mindset of, ‘I have to get you before you get me.’”

To honor her daughter, Washington has started the Washington Robinson Memorial Scholarship Fund with her church, Covenant Church International in Pinson, Alabama. She also started mentoring group at Tarrant High School, where she teaches.

“During the sessions, we cover [several] topics, such as … being aware of your surroundings,” said Washington, whose ultimate goal is to partner with the Birmingham Police Department to create a safe haven for online trading, where individuals trade products with the help of the internet and computers.

“I want to create places where people can do trading, and it’s safe. The police precinct is the safest place to go,” she said.

To the mothers who have faced similar traumatic experiences, Washington said, “Stay in your word, keep your faith, and take it day by day. Some days will be harder than others, but on the hard days think of the memories of you and your loved one. [Also], seek counseling and join a support group.”

Washington has found comfort in being part of What About Us, a Birmingham-based nonprofit organization that provides support services for those who have experienced the loss of a child.

“I told myself, ‘This will be good for me,’” she said. “If you’re a mother [that hasn’t] experienced losing a child, you don’t understand my hurt and pain. You can sympathize with me, but you can’t empathize with me. … The mothers that are part of What About Us know the pain I feel, they know the ache in my heart, they know the tears that flow because they walk in the same shoes I’m walking in.”

For a CBS42 report on this Beyond The Violence installment tap this link Beyond the Violence: Mothers helping grieving mothers find their voice this Mother’s Day (cbs42.com)

Donations for Destiny’s scholarship fund at Covenant Church International in Pinson, Alabama, can be sent to https://www.covenantchurchintl.org/donate or Cash App $covenantBham FOR: Destiny. To learn more about the Birmingham-based What About Us support group, email Sheree Kennon at shereekennon@yahoo.com or what.about.us.moms@gmail.com.

 Previous installments of the series:

As Homicides Escalate, Birmingham Times, AL.com Launch Joint Series on Gun Violence | The Birmingham Times

Retired Birmingham Police Weigh In on City’s Growing Homicides | The Birmingham Times

Police Chief Weighs in on Causes and Solutions as Birmingham Homicides Reach Tragic Highs | The Birmingham Times

John Archibald: Ignoring Murders of Black Males Won’t Make it Disappear | The Birmingham Times

How One Birmingham Area Partnered with Police to Curb Crime; While Others Live in Fear | The Birmingham Times

Why Some Birmingham Residents Call Felicia Mearon Before They Call The Police | The Birmingham Times

Some Birmingham City Councilors Not Immune to Gun Violence | The Birmingham Times

As Gunshot Wounds Increase in Birmingham, UAB Adds Surgeons to Handle the Surge | The Birmingham Times

How Preventing Domestic Violence Can Reduce Historic Homicide Toll in Birmingham AL | The Birmingham Times

MAX Transit, Birmingham Moms Unveil Black History Month Bus Wrap | The Birmingham Times

Birmingham Teens Use Poetry to Speak Against Gun Violence During CBS42 Special | The Birmingham Times

Losing Child to Gun Violence in Birmingham: ‘I Contemplated Suicide’ | The Birmingham Times

Estella Rush-Lewis: Grief-Stricken, But Riding With a Purpose | The Birmingham Times

‘Mother’s Day will be a complete lost … I don’t have my son, my heart is just shattered’ | The Birmingham Times

How Felicia Morgan Found Strength to Pray for Killer of Her Son | The Birmingham Times