In 2007 Tracey Ford was a single mother, running her own business and looking after her two children, Becky (14) and Andre (17), when at his friend’s ice-skating party Andre was shot dead. From this shattering event, Tracey chose to set aside hate and use forgiveness as a force for change.
The afternoon before Andre went skating was a special one. Unusually he’d spent the whole day at home. We had lunch together and were messing about and having fun. He was growing into an incredibly independent young man, always jovial and bubbly. It was his friend’s birthday and he spent ages getting ready. Then he left saying he’d be back later. But that was the last time I saw him alive.
Later that evening I got a phone call from his hysterical girlfriend telling me Andre had been shot. From that moment on it felt like I died. I got into my car and drove to the rink where there was an ambulance waiting. As I walked up the steps of the ambulance, an officer stopped me and said ‘you’re not allowed in here.’ All I wanted to do was hold my son but they told me I couldn’t. I cannot describe the pain within, to be told you can’t be with or hold your child.
This is why, ever since then, I’ve held on to those fun last hours we spent together. That is the memory that has helped me to continue to live my life.
The immediate feeling after being told that Andre was dead was one of total disbelief. It’s like living in another world. But even so, from the moment it happened, I went into a space of forgiveness. When everyone else was crying and wailing, I stayed calm and kept myself very busy so I had no time to sit and be angry. Everyone wanted revenge, but I knew that wouldn’t solve anything.
Andre was murdered inside the skating rink and shot at twice. From what I’ve been told I understand that he ran on to the ice, where he collapsed and died. For the perpetrators – who were children themselves – I have to feel a sense of forgiveness because they took the wrong child. When children carry knives or guns, they don’t think of consequences. We’ve lost Andre and won’t get him back but that child who killed him – now a young man – has to live his life knowing what he’s done. Does he sleep at night? His mother too must carry the pain of her child.
14 young people were arrested but no one was charged. Each year we go and stand outside the skating rink and put up posters to remember Andre but also in the hope that someone will be able to say what happened, and the perpetrators will be brought to justice. My wish for justice doesn’t stop me forgiving. I don’t believe I could do the work I need to do for my daughter and my mother if I didn’t forgive. My mother is completely broken by this and for two years my daughter couldn’t talk about what happened. I too have a broken heart – splintered into a million pieces – but each day I get up feeling I’m healing a little bit more. I had 17 years of an absolutely beautiful relationship with my son and that’s something I’ll keep for the rest of my life.
If there is ever a trial I won’t go. I have no desire to sit among families who won’t accept their son killed. But I understand why; it would be hard to accept what your child has done. And if the perpetrators ever come to me full of remorse I’d have compassion.
Forgiveness is not saying that what happened was OK, it’s being able to say within your heart that you accept what’s happened and you won’t let it stop you living a life or seeing humanity in the person who has hurt you.
A wall of silence has grown up in this community. We need to build a bridge so people feel protected when they speak to the Police. People are afraid to speak out and fear they might get murdered too. A lot of children around this part of London talk about not living to beyond the age of 21. That’s a terrible thing. My work involves trying to give young people hope, helping them see there is life beyond their teenage years.
Tracey has since founded the JAGS Foundation
as a lasting tribute to her son. The foundation aims to raise awareness of youth on youth violence by providing services and safe spaces for healing, education and restoration.
Photography by Brian Moody