Newspaper article

From Death to Life Offers Support to Twin Cities Families Harmed by Violence

Newspaper article

From Death to Life Offers Support to Twin Cities Families Harmed by Violence

Article excerpt

Mary Johnson broke down in tears the day she met face-to-face the man who was in prison for killing her son.

Still, the Minneapolis woman said she knew she had to forgive him.

Now Johnson, often alongside Oshea Israel, the man convicted of taking her only child's life, preaches dozens of times a year in churches, prisons and schools a message of forgiveness, reconciliation and an end to violence.

At the foundation of her work is From Death to Life, a faith- based, grassroots group she founded in 2005 that helps area families ravaged by violence, and the Two Mothers, Two Sons program of "healing groups."

To help her continue that mission the community is coming together to sponsor a benefit concert of African-American music, including spirituals, Feb.12, the 21st anniversary of her son's death. Check out details below.

"Mary is committed to helping people who have gone through terrible things to get to a better place and to help community get to a better place,'' said Kate Havelin, a board member of From Death to Life who's been campaigning to curb gun violence for decades.

Years after her son, Laramiun Byrd, was killed, hate was destroying her life, Johnson said. She realized she had to forgive Israel, who was 16 when he shot and killed Byrd, 20, at an "after- hours" party.

She also had to acknowledge that her son had changed from the "smart, loving young man'' who went to church and did well in school. He'd dropped out of school and started selling drugs. "He wasn't living the life I had trained him up in," she said.

Working with prison officials in a restorative justice program, in 2005 she met Israel, who was 28 at the time. In 2010 she hosted a welcome-home party for him and he moved in next door for three years.

Asked how he's doing now, Johnson hesitated, and then said, "He's a very intelligent young man. He's not in trouble. …

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