Where do I go from here?
That was a question Carolyn Dixon said she struggled to answer after Darrell Lynch, the middle child she considered her best friend, had his life taken by a gunman on May 5, 2014, in a shooting over a parking spot. Dixon, who was with her son, then 24 years old, held him as he died.
“The community loved him — just loved him,” she said. “He always saw, he never judged.”
Her own wounds were still fresh one morning when she left an overnight shift at work. By the middle of the day she had decided she would commit suicide unless she received a sign from her son. That sign came, said Dixon, when she became ill and visited a clinic. There, she saw the doctor who delivered Darrell.
“She remembered me and she asked about him and said, ‘Come into my office,’” said Dixon. “And his picture was right there on a wall. So that was my sign: Mom, I’m OK. You have to live.”
Since then, she has been helping other survivors find the same answer.
Dixon quit her job as a substance-abuse counselor and began working for LIFE Camp, the Jamaica, Queens-based violence-prevention organization founded by Erica Ford. Dixon comforted other families whose lives were upended by gun violence, undergoing training in trauma healing at the New School in New York City.
Dixon used that education and her own experience to launch Where Do We Go From Here, a survivor-focused organization that facilitates healing circles with mothers and fathers, and one-on-one sessions; runs arts programs that promote healing; and organization retreats to places like the Poconos. The organization also helps families find aid for burial costs and other needs.
If there’s a shooting in the neighborhood, Dixon responds to the hospital to meet and comfort the family.
“I get a call, wherever I have to go, I go,” she said. “The feelings that we share among one another, and the pain and the heartbreak that we share among each other, we wouldn’t want that among our worst enemies.”
Dixon also networks with numerous other organizations, like Moms Demand Action, Kings of King, the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, the Akeal Christopher Foundation and the 67th Precinct Clergy Council.
She and other survivors liaison with the New York Police Department (NYPD) and district attorneys in the city’s five boroughs about cold cases and pending investigations, and with New York City housing officials about finding homes for families affected by gun violence. Housing is “one of the major issues with families affected by gun violence,” said Dixon.
“I have a mother now who still lives in the same apartment her son was shot in,” she said.
Dixon, noting that New York City does not have gun sellers but is filled with illegal weapons, is also an advocate for gun-control legislation. She uses her advocacy to remind people that the gun-violence problem goes beyond mass shootings, and is wreaking havoc in low-income communities populated predominantly by Blacks and Latinos.
“Whether it's suicide, whether it’s domestic violence, whether it's mass shootings, whether it's everyday shootings, whether it's police killings, or police being killed, I take it seriously,” said Dixon. “You have to look at it as a whole; you can't separate.”
Dixon remembers how, in the immediate aftermath of Darrell’s death, people called and sent private messages via Facebook recalling her son’s habit of telling people he loved them. At the funeral, she met elderly people who said Darrell had brought them food — kind gestures she never knew about.
Eight years later, she still has moments when the wounds reopen.
Once, she aided the mother of a 1-year-old boy whose life was taken by gun violence in Brooklyn. Dixon said she was apprehensive when asked to attend the funeral.
“I didn't know what to do, because I've never seen a baby in a casket before,” she said. “I think that was the worst experience I've ever had to experience in my life — seeing a baby in a casket.”