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Marilyn Washington-Harris

Family Liason, Khadafy Washington Project

Marilyn Washington Harris founded Youth ALIVE!’s Khadafy Washington Project (KWP), through which we support families of homicide victims. The program is named in memory of her son, who was killed in August of 2000, on the campus of McClymonds High School in West Oakland. Khadafy had graduated from McClymonds just two months earlier.

Today, when a homicide occurs in Oakland, Youth ALIVE! gets an urgent notification. Marilyn or one of our other KWP crisis responders immediately reach out to victims’ families, to offer comfort in the midst of their fear, shock and anger, and to guide them through all the sudden business at hand with coroners, police, funeral homes and the victim compensation process. But it wasn’t like that when Khadafy was killed. There was no one there to help Marilyn and her family in the days and weeks after his death.

Marilyn started taking action in the months after Khadafy’s killing by creating billboards, which were distributed, 19 of them, across the city, with Khadafy’s picture and the blaring question: Do You Know Who Killed Me? They were a stark reminder to a city sometimes in denial that too many of its young men were dying violent deaths. Soon Marilyn was organizing marches to bring attention to Oakland’s problem with violence, and to the lasting pain families of victims endure.

But there was something more calling to her. A dire need, a suffering community no one was paying any attention to.

Privately, Marilyn began reaching out to families in the immediate aftermath of a homicide, especially the mothers, sending them mementos, reminders that they were not forgotten. Then she began seeking them out personally, at their homes, the hospital, even at crime scenes, offering to assist them through the chaos and confusion that descends on a family in the days and weeks after a loved-one’s sudden, violent death. In their darkest moments, she protected them from exploitation; she scraped up funds for economically struggling families so that they could bury their dead with dignity and grace. She continued to counsel and care for them as they tried to get back to life. Marilyn had found her calling.

In 2011, Marilyn brought her ground-breaking program to Youth ALIVE!. Today, gun violence in Oakland persists, and Khadafy’s mom is a Youth ALIVE! crisis responder in the program named for her son, touching the lives of suffering Oaklanders. Marilyn has won awards for her work, including a Bay Area Jefferson Award (called “a Nobel Prize for Community Service”) in 2012. She was named Oakland’s Mother of the Year in 2015. She was inspired in the wake of her greatest loss to bring comfort to those similarly afflicted.

We believe that through the life and growth of the Khadafy Washington Project, and of Marilyn’s own Khadafy Washington Foundation for Non-Violence, Khadafy’s spirit lives and grows. It is his spirit reaching out to the devastated survivors of Oakland’s killed, those living victims of homicide. It’s his spirit helping them begin the long, hard process of healing, of finding some kind of peace and love in their lives and their city.

Read more stories about Marilyn and her work.

Headshot of Family Liason, Khadafy Washington Project Marilyn Washington-Harris