By JR Valrey, The Minister of Information
October 20, 1997 I remember vividly, because multiple news channels were blaring the news that there had been a shooting in front of McClymonds High School in West Oakland, that had claimed the life of an innocent student by the name of LoEshe’ Lacy. Years later, I met her father Donald Lacy after I used to listen to him on his community radio show that came on 89.5FM KPOO. When I made the connection in my mind that LoEshe was his daughter, I was floored by how he was able to continue his life in a productive way, after such a devastating loss; he was still a radio host, comedian, thespian, community worker, family man, and father.
Dealing with grief in the Black community in a constructive way, is one of the biggest obstacles that we have to overcome, in order to break the cycle of death that the U.S. government has sentenced the inner-city to. Dealing with our mental health, while in the grips of a nation that hates our very existence, is a tedious task that many of us have not even begun to study. Donald Lacy was thrown into the proverbial fire when his daughter was senselessly murdered, and was able to rise from the ashes like the phoenix to offer compassion, love, guidance, and direction to our people going through similar situations. For that, Donald Lacy deserves the highest salute. As we celebrate LoveLife Week this week, I wanted to bring you the words of a true giant among men.
JR Valrey: What made you start the Love Life Foundation? When?
Donald Lacy: First of all, salute to you for all you have done to publicize so many things about what’s going on in the Black community, for so many years. It is always an honor to talk with you. I started the LoveLife Foundation on November 1, 1997 after my 16 year old daughter LoEshe’ was murdered on October 20, 1997, an innocent victim to a shooting. LoEshe’ (pronounced LO-E-SHAY) is Ibo/Nigerian and means LoveLife in English. LoEshe’ was a student at McClymonds High School where she was a successful conflict resolution mediator.
The LoveLife Foundation was actually my daughter’s idea. In the summer of 1997 one of my daughter’s friends was murdered. His name was James Valery. She asked me to help her write a play, and help her do a vigil to honor her friend. She told me she was tired of seeing so many young people die and wanted to do something to stop the violence. I have never been prouder of her for wanting to take her grief and do something positive in the community. That’s who she is; a spirit of love and bringing people together. So when she was killed a few months later, I felt obligated to start the LoveLife Foundation to bring her vision to life.
JR Valrey: What is LoveLife Week?
Donald Lacy: LoveLife Week is something we do every year, in the 3rd week of October, around the anniversary of LoEshe’s murder, which happened on October 20th. We have a healing vigil for families and friends of all murder victims to honor their lives and encourage our people to love each other, and to solve our differences, whatever they may be without resorting to violence and murder. So far in Oakland we have 113 murders this year. It is heartbreaking to see so many young Black people dying in Oakland. During the week we ask people to commit random acts of kindness. Spread love in the Town. On the last Sunday of the week which this year is Sunday October 24th, we are asking everyone to take 1 minute of silent prayer at 12 noon PST for all murder victims.
JR Valrey: How did you deal with the grief of losing your daughter?
Donald Lacy: My brother, it’s a daily struggle. People like to say we suffer from PTSD, post traumatic stress disorder. I say I suffer and so do so many of us from CTSD Current Traumatic Stress disorder. The Trauma is ongoing. It’s been a roller coaster ride. The thing that has helped me the most was to make something good happen. My daughter was so loved that everyone in the family was devastated, as well as her classmates, teachers and people in the community. There were over 850 people at her funeral. I felt like I had to be strong for everyone. I didn’t want to break down and let the grief and pain immobilize me from living and doing something to make a difference. In fact for the first 10 years after she was killed I didn’t grieve or deal with the trauma I was feeling. I put all my energy into making a difference in her name. I didn’t know it the night she was killed, but the work I would end up doing kept me sane. I didn’t go to counseling at all for the first 10 years. But then one night I was acting in a play about Black people who had been murdered in Jonestown. The character I was playing had to go to the morgue to identify his sister, who had been killed in Guyana. As I lifted the sheet on the slab where the body of a dummy was, I saw my daughter as I saw her when I went to identify her at the morgue. I let out a blood curdling scream and cry that took me out of the play. After the scene I was backstage trembling and it was then I realized I needed professional help. I needed a counselor to help me to deal with the grief and trauma, that up until that point I refused to acknowledge.
JR Valrey: What made you grieve through community work instead of applying revenge?
Donald Lacy: The night LoEshe’ was killed I was in Los Angeles at the Improv. When I got the news that LoEshe’ had been killed, I went crazy. I destroyed a phone in the booth on Melrose where I had called home to find out why I was getting all these 911 pages. I went to one of my best friends’ house, Laura Hayes, and she and her husband kept me from doing anything crazy. I was getting pages and calls from a lot of people, who thought they knew who was involved in her murder. The word came back that there were 4 of them involved. I wanted to drive from L.A. that night and find out who did it. Laura and her husband Larry talked me down and I stayed at their house that night. I was on the phone talking to family and other people. The last person I talked to at 7 AM was my grandmother, Mother Pearl Franklin who lived a few months shy of 102. She said to me: “My only grandson, what the devil meant for evil, God was gonna turn to good.” And right when she told me that I remembered what my daughter had taught me a few months earlier, when she wanted to take her pain and make something good happen for the community. The next day I put the word out that I didn’t want any retaliation. I want my daughter’s life and death to serve a purpose for love and goodness, not murder.
JR Valrey: What are your views about what we should do in our community to limit the excessive amount of gun violence going on?
Donald Lacy: Man this is the big question. And let me say I don’t claim to know all the answers, but I think we got to turn to each other, instead of on each other. I grew up in Oakland in the 60’s and 70’s, and man there was so much love in the Black community. If we had a dispute we would knuckle up, and settle whatever the conflict was with each other. We wouldn’t involve innocent people with whatever our beef was. We wouldn’t shoot up the house party because someone did something we didn’t like. So part of it I think is changing the way we deal with conflict. But we didn’t get here by accident. It’s a fact that the U.S. government distributed crack cocaine in the Black community, as is detailed in Gary Webb’s “Dark Alliance”. Since then, murder in the Black community has risen steadily. But again we got to save our community. We got to do our best to love and respect each other. It’s not an easy quick fix, because our community needs economic revitalization, so that people can have Black businesses and a thriving economy, like what we did back in the day before integration. We had thriving communities with vibrant economies like Black Wall Street. I love Oakland. I love us. We are the strongest, most brilliant people to ever walk the earth. I pray we find the solutions with each other, to make our community as great as it can be.
JR Valrey: What kind of things have you accomplished with the Love Life Foundation over the years?
Donald Lacy: When I look back on what we have accomplished, I am amazed. We have never had a lot of money. I don’t get paid a salary. Most of our work is done with me working long hours, along with some volunteers. We have had Town hall meetings with hundreds of people and peace marches. For 4 years we did live radio broadcasts with youth doing the engineering and producing from Everett and Jones. RIP Dorothy King. We also broadcasted from D’Wayne Wiggins’ spot, The Jahva House, where I had the honor of interviewing Gary Webb, in front of a live studio audience. We also have produced with youth, an award winning radio and television programs, which won awards from The Red Cross, The National Council on Crime and Delinquency, and several others. Congresswoman Barbara Lee proclaimed the work of the LoveLife Foundation from the floor of Congress. One of our greatest achievements in 2015, after over 16 years of activism, was getting the Oakland City Council to adopt “LoveLife”, as the official motto for the City of Oakland. Every entering Oakland sign says : “LoveLife” to honor all victims of violence, and to remind us all to respect the gift of life. The other accomplishment that makes me proud is to see all the young people we first met in middle school, who were in our after school program, who went on to graduate from college, have great careers and are raising families. I love to see young Black people succeed
JR Valrey: What would you say to somebody who recently started grieving over a loved one murdered?
Donald Lacy: It’s so tough. As a parent who lost a child it hurts me whenever I see another parent lose their child. It’s such a deeply painful experience and everyone goes through it differently. I try to encourage them as much as I possibly can. I have prayer with them, if they need it. I also encourage them to seek counseling if they need it. Don’t do like I did and ignore the pain and grief. When I finally dealt with it after suppressing it for over 10 years I almost didn’t come back from it. I tell them there is a fraternity of us out here, who understand their pain and are here to support them in any way we can.
JR Valrey: How could people stay in touch with what the Love Life Foundation has going on?
Donald Lacy: Thank you JR for the opportunity to share my story, and the legacy of my beautiful daughter. If folks want to reach me, they can hit me up on email at email@example.com or 510-ONE-LOVE 663-5683. Keep up all the great work you do my brother, and God bless you and God bless Oakland. LoveLife. Don’t take Life.