Victims of Violence

At the Willard, Tea and Empathy

By Michelle Boorstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The first time Marita Michael and Michelle Postell hugged, both women were surprised. So was everyone else in the D.C. Superior courtroom, where Postell's son was on trial for killing Michael's.

"There was a break, and I was just going to walk past her, and she stood up at the same time, and . . . " said Michael, 45, a vivacious woman with a throaty voice.

" . . . and we just grabbed each other. People were staring," added Postell, a well-coiffed 50-year-old with a shy smile.

The tendency to finish each other's sentences, like the spontaneous hug that day in 2004, shows the bond between the women, the result of sharing an experience no parent would ever wish to share.

Postell's son, Erik, now 19, was found guilty in the 2003 shooting of Devin M. Fowlkes, a star football player at Anacostia Senior High School when he died at 16.

Yet although the experience of violence is sadly familiar to many families, the reaction of Michael and Postell is not.

Shortly after Postell's son was sent to Oak Hill juvenile detention facility, Michael reached out to her through a pastor. Anger was eating her up, and "the only way I could make peace with this was to make peace with her," Michael said Sunday, Postell at her side.

"I told her I was sorry," Postell said, "and she said, 'That was all I wanted to hear.' "

The women spoke Sunday in a back room of the Willard InterContinental Hotel, where they were about to be introduced to an audience they are eager to reach: mothers of slain children. The event, part church service and part art therapy, was the fourth Summertime Tea, the main annual event of the group the two women founded, Forgiving Mothers. The luncheon was meant to connect, soothe and inspire those still burning with grief.

Dozens of women, and a few men, in their Sunday best sat at elegantly appointed tables in the ballroom, eating shrimp, watching spiritual modern dancers, listening to poetry and to people preaching about forgiveness. Many were supporters of the group, along with friends, aunts or grandmothers of victims. About a dozen stood up when mothers of murdered children were asked to stand.

"This Earth is not about us. It's for us to learn to get along," said Saundra Beverly, 60, of Deanwood, whose son Anthony Wilson, 31, was shot 22 times in a church parking lot in 2002. She runs a group called Life After Homicide and says she could forgive her son's killer -- if she knew for sure who it was. No one has been arrested in the slaying, though she is pretty sure she knows who was responsible and says she has told their relatives she isn't upset with them.

But Postell and Michael say they have a hard time finding people to come to their workshops, and despite speaking at events around the region about reconciliation, Michael says she doesn't know others who have gotten to the point of befriending the other side.

"We have a beautiful relationship," Michael said Sunday of Postell, who works in human resources for the State Department. "We're like sisters. We go out and eat. My daughter calls her 'auntie.' "

Michael says the killing brought them to a fork in the road. "We didn't know which way to go." Both found renewed strength in God, but in different ways. Michael is Muslim; Postell is Methodist.

"When you lose a child, it hurts. It takes the will of God to get you out of that," Michael said.

The pair are akin to celebrities in the region's network of violence victims.

"I'm a Christian girl," said Barbara Harris, who came to support Forgiving Mothers, "but I don't know if I could be as forgiving."

© 2008 The Washington Post Company