ALBANY — Since losing her son to gun violence a little over two years ago, Amy Barnes has learned to turn her pain into healing — for herself and other mothers — through her art.
Barns, whose son Christopher Jamaal Barnes was killed in the garage of the family’s residence in DeKalb County in December 2018, has made it a goal to prepare gift baskets to give to mothers in similar circumstances each Valentine’s Day.
“My son actually testified against a gang member,” she said. “That particular person was on a quest for revenge. He’d shot my house a number of times.”
The gang member later died in a motorcycle accident, but Barnes said she believes that some of his fellow gang members are responsible for Jamaal’s death. He received a call on his cellphone the evening he was killed, and a man in an SUV showed up.
The pair went into the garage and the visitor later came outside, she said. Video showed him handing a gun to another man walking down the street before returning to the garage.
“He (the second man) came into the garage and shot my son one time in the abdomen,” Barnes said. “He got in the SUV and they left.
“My son came in the house and said, ‘Mama, I’m shot.’”
Jamaal ran back outside and collapsed.
“He was able to tell what kind of car it was before he died,” she said. “He didn’t know the name of the guy. There still has not been an arrest made in my son’s murder.”
Around Valentine’s Day 2019, Amy Barnes had the idea to make a gift basket to present to another mother who lost a son to violence. Recently, that vision has grown.
“Sitting in church a few weeks ago, I had the vision of ‘Bridging the Gap: Mothers Without Sons,’” she said. “The Holy Spirit said to me I was supposed to create this foundation. I was not to give one gift basket, I am to give 10.”
The grieving mother decided to give five of the baskets in Dougherty County, where she moved after Jamaal’s death, and a total of five in DeKalb and Spalding counties. Jamaal was born in Spalding County.
Barnes ended up in Albany, she said, because she could not bear to live in the residence where the shooting occurred. She packed up her belongings and slept on the couch of a daughter, an elementary school teacher in the Dougherty County School System, until finding her own place to live.
“I am on a quest to find at least five mothers here in Dougherty County that I can give gift baskets on behalf of my son, Christopher Jamaal, and to honor their sons,” she said. “(It’s) my attempt to heal and help other mothers heal by offering the emotional support to reclaim their lives. Once something like this happens, you are never the same.”
The gesture is one that Banes understands. She said she was comforted when someone presented her a bracelet with charms, one of which is heart-shaped with a photo of Jamaal.
The gift baskets come in a bag with a bottle of sparkling water and wine glass with a blue stem.
“Blue was Jamaal’s favorite color,” she said. “I just know that when they receive these gift baskets, they will feel the love I had for my son, that they will receive it in the spirit it was given.”
She also will present a giant Valentine’s card with the baskets. Barnes also is planning a brunch for mothers who have lost sons to gun violence for around Mother’s Day, and she said she has been in touch with the victim’s advocate at the Dougherty County District Attorney’s Office.
“I know I’m supposed to create this nonprofit to help mothers who have lost sons,” she said. “They said they have been looking for a parent to start a chapter. It was at that moment I understood why I was here, and this is what I’m supposed to be doing.
“I refuse to let his life and his death be in vain.”
Another goal of Mothers Without Sons is to reduce gun violence through education, intervention and prevention, while offering support to the living victims. Barnes has been invited to speak at a May conference in Durham, N.C. She also has a Mothers Without Sons Facebook page. Personal stories and nominations can be sent to MothersWithoutSons@gmail.com. Sponsors can send donations via Cash app @ $JusticeForJamaal, Barnes said.
Another project Barnes is looking to launch in the spring is bringing young males together to assist in their neighborhoods.
“(At) my son’s service, there were so many people there,” she said. “I could not have imagined he touched so many lives. He did general labor in the neighborhood, mowing lawns, pushing out the trash for other women.
“When my son was murdered, I was faced with who’s going to take my trash out, who’s going to mow my lawn? I had this idea I would like to get young men to help women with those things. I want to be able to go out in my community and give back as a tribute to my son.”