Dinner to support grieving moms


Staff Writer

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Rhonda Johnson understands what many local mothers go through when they’ve received that painful call from law enforcement about the tragic loss of their child.

Now, she and friend Sheila Hilliard are organizing an upcoming event in Rocky Mount to honor mothers that have lost children to violence called the “Angel Moms Dinner” at 3:30 p.m. May 12 at the Booker T. Washington Community Center.  

“What we’re doing is we’re trying to let the moms know that we’re thinking about them and they’ve got support from us,” Hilliard said. “A lot of them feel neglected in a sense. Their child has gone on and people have just forgotten. We just want to show them a bit of care and love.”

The free event is being held to coincide with Mother’s Day, which is on May 13. Johnson said the space at the community center seats 60 people and between 27 to 29 people have committed to coming. The event is RSVP only because of the limited space.

“I told Sheila I would like to get a Mother’s Day dinner for the mothers that lost their children because it’s one of the hardest days,” Johnson said. “Mother’s Day come and the child isn’t here. It’s really a hard day. As long as I’ve been down here, there are so many people that don’t know my child was murdered because I’m always laughing and always trying to do things to help people.”

The harsh reality for Johnson occurred more than 20 years ago. Johnson said it was Aug. 6, 1996, while living in Baltimore, when her then-17-year-old son was robbed and murdered by a man for $8. The person who killed Johnson’s son was later captured by authorities, she said.

Johnson said her son had received a full college scholarship to attend Morgan State University. Instead of staying in Baltimore, Johnson left her good paying goverment job in Baltimore and decided to relocate to Rocky Mount to better cope with the loss of her son.

Johnson, who was a longtime employement counselor, is also known in the area as the owner of RJ’s Hot Dog Dayz, which was located in the Helen P. Gay Rocky Mount Historic Train Station before it closed a few years ago.

“I was going to have a nervous breakdown if I had stayed up there in Baltimore, and that’s why I left everything,” Johnson said. “I know how these women feel, so I thank God for not allowing my mind to snap because I saw some people that did.”

In addition to a complete dinner, the event will have a candlelight vigil for the mothers, and each mother is being asked to bring a picture of their child. Johnson said the plan is to also give the mothers a couple poems that she wrote after her son was killed to help them.

Hilliard and Johnson told mothers that the emphasis of the event isn’t to talk about any sort of ongoing investigation by authorities but to share all the good things and memories about their child.

“We told them to speak of the joy and the good is what these mothers need to hear,” Johnson said. “We want them to say funny things and good things about their child that will make them laugh and smile.”

Even though the occasion is centered on mothers who have lost children to violence, Johnson said mothers who have lost a child because of an illness or other unfortunate circumstances are also invited to the event.

For more information on the Angel Moms Dinner, call Hilliard at 252-314-8067 or Johnson at 252-314-5262.