With two sons behind bars, this Philly mom struggles to prevent others from suffering the same fate

Pamela Mack Jr. has spent much of the past two years starting a grassroots community organization that she calls A Million Minds March. She is planning a Spring Gala fundraiser to help raise funds to purchase a building from which she wishes to provide mentorship, job training and bereavement counseling to youth in parts of Philadelphia where such services are badly needed but often rare.

“When you have babies dying on the streets, it’s time to get up and make some noise,” she said. “It’s time to rebuild the village.

Mack, 44, a mother of eight from Southwest Philadelphia who has been asked to speak regularly to teens who get into trouble with the law, said she believed her organization would be successful because “I love do this work”.

A former executive assistant at Blue Cross Blue Shield, Mack runs a home bakery and helps his daughters, ages 11 and 16, start a t-shirt business. She initially thought about naming her nonprofit A Million Moms March, but opted for A Million Minds March because she wants to reach more than mothers.

“For me, it’s about changing your mind,” said Mack, who has a little bit of advice to help him strategize but not budget. And she has what some may consider personal baggage: Two of her three sons are behind bars for gun crimes.

Her eldest son, Maurice Puckett, 28, is being held in Center County State Prison, Pa., For possession of a firearm while on probation following a previous conviction for aggravated assault. And her 24-year-old son, Marquan Mack, 24, was arrested in Winslow Township, Camden County, in April and charged with attempted murder, aggravated assault with a firearm and related crimes for allegedly firing a gun at a group of young people during an argument.

Rather than preventing him from helping others, Mack believes the plight of his sons gives him more insight and credibility in pulling young people away from the city’s culture of gun violence.

“The only reason I can tell people what can happen is because I’ve been through it,” she said. “I look at my sons and I know they could have done better. Then I look at myself and ask, “What could I have done better?

“And the best I could have done was get out of the relationship I was in,” she said, referring to what she described as an abusive 21-year union with her ex. husband who she says traumatized her sons and contributed to their multiples comes up against the law as a teenager, and eventually adulthood.

READ MORE: Once the one to comfort grieving loved ones, father risks burying his own 15-year-old daughter | Helen Ubiñas

The metamorphosis from grieving parent to activist is familiar in American life: John Walsh co-founded the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children after the kidnapping and murder of his son, Adam; and in Philadelphia, Dorothy Johnson-Speight created Mothers in Charge after the 2001 murder of her son, Khaaliq Jabbar Johnson, following a parking dispute.

But for parents like Mack, whose children are the accused, there are few role models. Mack says she’s determined because she wants to do so many things.

“I want to offer more than just a center for children,” she said. “I want to offer more than just a refuge for young people in difficulty. I want to educate these children. I want to show them that they can get out of Philly and do something on their own. I want them to know that they can do whatever they put their heart, mind and soul into. But you have to stay away [of trouble] to see it through.

On September 11, his fledgling organization sponsored a march from city hall to the art museum in memory of those lost to gun violence in the city this year. The event did not reach the crowd of 1,000 people she was hoping to attract, but she said she was grateful for the support of the 110 people who showed up. “I know that I will be better prepared for next year and get to know the community I am trying to reach better,” she added.

Mack said the motivation to create a youth shelter comes not only from the fact that his sons are behind bars, but also from the near-death experience of his 21-year-old godson, who was shot seven times. while a friend of his was shot 20 times near 60th and Market Streets last year. They both survived.

“I know gun violence because gun violence is everywhere,” she said. “But at the same time, I experienced it myself, unfortunately.”

READ MORE: Shots took 13-year-old who was friends with everyone. At his school in North Philadelphia, it’s “utter devastation.”

Last Christmas Eve, the violence she talks about swept through the front door and windows of her southwest Philadelphia home, where three generations of relatives and friends had gathered, she recalls.

Someone – who was later told to shoot his son Marquan – stood outside and riddled the house with bullets, causing everyone to dive to the ground. No was arrested in the shooting, she said, and Marquan was not at home at the time.

“He was taking care of things he had nothing to do with,” she said of her son. “No one was shot, and I praise God for it. … He has blessed us where no one has been hurt or hurt. It is something that I have never experienced. I would never want anyone to experience this.

As Mack continues the launch of A Million Minds March, she has sought advice from veterans of the city’s activist community, including Terry Starks, director of the Expressureself Urban Crisis Response Center, and Rev. Wesley Proctor, pastor of the Victory Christian Center. to Southwest.

“She’s on time. She is diligent and compassionate in bringing things back to normal, ”Starks said. “There aren’t many people here who you can count on. Pam Mack is the one you can. She has lived her experiences and she wants her voice to be heard. She wants to galvanize those who have experienced the same type of trauma.

Proctor, whose Wesley Proctor Ministries Inc. has provided professional assistance in building nonprofit organizations to more than 1,000 people, including Mack, said he was impressed with his commitment to making Philadelphia safer.

READ MORE: ‘Watch all the injured’ as homicides in Philadelphia climb and more children are shot | Helen Ubiñas

“We need voices like hers in the community because often people are afraid or don’t share enough of their personal struggles and stories about what it took them to get to where they are,” he said. he declares. “It took a lot of courage for him to even set up this organization. “

Mack says she looks forward to the time when her sons are free and hopes they want to share their stories with the young people she works with.

“They can say, ‘I spent my childhood in prison and outside. I spent my childhood not listening to my mother. I spent my childhood being provocative, and it got me nowhere, ”she said. “Both can help rebuild the community once torn apart, to some extent. They have the potential. They are very intelligent men.

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