Friday, April 27, 2012

The deaths of two sons aroused Howteron's desire to become a County Commissioner

Some memories never go away.  No matter how much you do to flush the pain away, they keep coming back.

Durham County Commissioner Brenda Howerton has her share of old memories.  She has a pair of wounds exposed by the death of Trayvon Martin.  Two sons murdered in the space of 17 months have made it difficult for her to focus on campaigning to keep her seat as a County Commissioner.

“I was on my way to Lowes looking for material for my campaign. I had the radio on and they were talking about this case,” she told me. “Tears were running down my face while trying to run a campaign.  My heart is taken back to what President Obama said.  That could have been my son.  That was my son.”

It was two sons.

She worked until 2a.m. that day to put campaign signs out.  From there, she prepared herself for a series of debates and making the rounds to prove she deserves another term.    All while fighting back those tears that come whenever she hears Trayvon’s name.

Her oldest son Lamont was killed by a Navy officer at a party he organized for students at Hampton University.  It was a party celebrating the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.  Lamont asked the officer to leave after he started a fight.  He returned with a pistol and killed Lamont as the crowd ran for cover. 

“Lamont was always doing things for the kids on campus,” Howerton says.  He died while celebrating the life of Martin Luther King.  He was only 26 years-old.

While weeping over the death of Lamont and fighting for justice in court, her youngest son was killed.  Darryl, who was 17 years-old, decided to re-enroll at NC A&T University.  The pressure was too much for him to take. 

“He walked out the street with no clothes on and was shot and killed by the police,” Howerton says.

“The death of Trayvon takes me back there,” she says.  “I feel for all the brothers and fathers, mothers and sisters, uncles and aunts who have to deal with the death of a person they love.”

After years of fighting for justice in the death of her two sons, Howerton says she learned the difference between justice and higher justice.  “No matter what the courts ruled, it wasn’t going to take that pain away,” she says. “I had to learn to fight for all the other kids still with us.”

A few tears broke free as Howerton talked about her sons. “People don’t understand that I do this for them,” she says.  “I do this because I want to make a difference for the people.”

Her phone kept ringing as she talked about the death of loved ones and her role as a County Commissioner.  She fought back the tears the best she could to avoid the glares of potential voters.  I was left wondering what they might think of those tears. Is it a sign of weakness?  Is it a sign of strength?

She talked about being watched by people.  “I don’t want to do anything that would let the people who vote for me down,” she says.

She wiped the tears from her face and smiled in a way that contradicted the emotions that stirred the tears.  She had to smile for those who vote.  She had to smile for me.  More than any of that, she had to smile to fuel courage to keep moving.

There are people behind the names that appear on the ballot.  They laugh, they get tired and they serve beyond the burden of the task.  We hold them responsible to our expectations of what we believe strong leadership means. 

Sometimes they cry. 

Voters rarely see beyond the issue that leads them to vote.  Be it the handling of the 751 project or the problems with the Department of Social Services, there’s no place to witness those tears.

The tears may not matter, but the least we can do is embrace them when they come.

Two sons.  All of us should shed a tear.

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