The Victims of Violent Death Memorial Quilt Artistically Portrays a Tragedy

The Victims of Violent Death Memorial Quilt is a Reminder and Warning

The Durham Homicide and Victims of Violent Death Memorial Quilt was created as a way to raise awareness about the impact of gun violence in Durham, North Carolina. It was started in protest after Shaquanna Attwater, a 2-year-old, was shot and killed in 1994.

Who is Sidney Brodie?

Sidney Brodie is an activist, musician, and lovely human being. I’ll never forget the day I met him. At the time, I was a full-time sociology instructor, and also a domestic abuse and sexual assault prevention educator, at Durham Technical Community College. Dr. Constanza Gomez-Joines, the Executive Director of the Center for the Global Learner, had invited me to join a team [or perhaps a taskforce] to bring a quilt to campus to highlight the devastation caused by violence in the surrounding communities.

Sidney Brodie has been working on the Victims of Violent Death Quilt since 1994
Sidney Brodie has been working on the Victims of Violent Death Quilt since 1994

When I first met Sidney, and saw the quilt, I was simultaneously struck by the time and effort he’d dedicated to raising awareness, stunned by the beauty of the quilt itself, and disturbed by the tragedy it represented. I can’t think of many other times in my life when I’ve felt such a mix of emotion. His story continues to haunt and inspire me.

Why Was the Victims of Violent Death Memorial Quilt Was Created?

While working at the Durham Emergency Communication Center, Sidney Brodie answered a 911 call about a shooting. That day, a two year old who had been caught in the crossfire between drug dealers lost her life. The incident permanently changed Sidney. He was outraged, both as a community member, and a father. He and a friend decided to create a quilt with a square for each person killed as a result of the violence in Durham.

A small group of volunteers help monitor the news on TV and social media. The artist may also get a call directly from a concerned citizen, family member, or friend of a murder victim notifying him of their passing.

Durham Homicide and Victims of Violent Death Memorial Quilt
Sidney Brodie

Twenty-five years later, the quilt is more than 70 feet long, and has more than 800 squares. To hear the story of the Victims of Violent Death Memorial Quilt in Sidney’s own words, listen to the PBS documentary, As in Death.

Excerpt from My Victims of Violent Death Awareness Event Speech

I’ve tried to capture the powerful impact Sidney Brodie’s Victims of Violent Death Memorial Quilt had on me personally, and describe how it so beautifully illustrates the need for the type of work I’m involved in. Unfortunately, I can’t condense everything I’ve learned about violence prevention in the last few years into a few minutes. So I’ve settled on two salient points I want to convey. One is related to scope, the other to a message of hope.

Event for the Victims of Violent Death Memorial Quilt
DTCC Event for the Victims of Violent Death Memorial Quilt

As a sociologist, I’ve seen the way a statistic can provide a sense of extent and relevance. According to recent research, 11% of children in the United States, nearly 1 in 9, are exposed to some form of family violence each year. As an instructor, I can think about that it in relation to another number – 30. That’s how many the students I typically have in each of my class sections. Statistically speaking, I can assume a certain percentage of my students witnessed violence in their homes growing up, and also deduce some of the ways that Adverse Childhood Experience might be influencing them in adulthood, including as a barrier in education.

We don’t feel raw numbers the way we feel art. Seeing the Victims of Violent Death Memorial Quilt, in person, gives a sense of scope to a staggeringly high statistic. But, unlike that statistic, the quilt also acknowledges, recognizes, and humanizes each victim.

I was both amazed and horrified as I approached the quilt
I was both amazed and horrified as I approached the quilt

Looking at the quilt squares, I felt compassion for each person represented, a desire to learn their unique stories, and empathy for the many loved ones left behind. When I stepped back to take in the entire quilt, I was struck by the extent of the violence.

Chris Elle Dove

The cost of violence is tremendous. It has a ripple effect that’s felt throughout families, social networks, and entire communities. A former president of the American Medical Association said:

“For each death due to violence, there are dozens of hospitalizations, hundreds of emergency room visits and thousands of doctor’s appointments.”

Richard Corlin

Richard Corlin reminds us that when it comes to violence, the lives lost are just the tip of a very large iceberg. That’s the first point I would like to highlight, that the iceberg includes everyone.

We are ALL impacted by violence!

My role in prevention education opened the door to hearing stories (almost daily) of pain, suffering and loss. Students and employees shared incidents so recent they were still in shock and had not yet begun to fully feel the pain. Others told me about incidents from decades ago that were as fresh as the day they occurred.

The Victims of Violent Death Quilt stretches more than 70 feet, and has over 800 squares
The Victims of Violent Death Quilt stretches more than 70 feet, and has over 800 squares

As demonstrated so vividly by the Victims of Violent Death Quilt, members of our communities have previously been, and will continue to be, affected by various forms of violence, in various ways, throughout their lives. We have an opportunity to profoundly impact the wellbeing of both individuals, and communities as a whole, by tackling this pervasive and persistent public health problem. Hope underlies the belief that we can have an impact. That hope stems from the second point I would like to highlight…

Violence is Preventable!

I feel once we really internalize these two points: violence impacts everyone & violence is preventable, it becomes clear we have a moral and ethical imperative to do our part in creating a safer society.

Here are a few things we can do…

  • Approach prevention in a more systematic and comprehensive way, utilizing the socio-ecological model [which recommends simultaneously implementing initiatives at the individual, relational, community, and societal levels].
  • Collaborate and network with others locally, regionally, and nationally [like Sidney Brodie], who are being proactive by moving upstream to address some of the root causes of violence.

And, I sincerely hope we will!