OPINION: Two years after losing my son to gun violence, I fight for change


By Sabrina Parker


It's been two years since my world came crumbling down. On May 20, 2022, I received the devastating news that my son Tyler had been shot and killed. He was only 19 years old with his whole life ahead of him. Losing Tyler was the most painful experience I've ever endured. Every day without him is a struggle, but I'm determined to keep his memory alive by standing up and speaking out against the senseless gun violence that stole him from me.

Tyler was my light. As a single mother raising four kids, he was my rock and my whole world. I had two miscarriages before having him, so when he was born, he was extra special to me - he was my miracle baby and the son I had always dreamed of. We were incredibly close. Even though he struggled in school, he had a kind heart and loved basketball. He would have done anything for his sisters.

On the surface, I tried to stay strong and positive. But inside, the hole in my heart left by Tyler's death felt like it would never fully heal. Questions about why this happened and who was responsible swirled in my mind constantly. The police said it appeared to be a case of mistaken identity, which provided little solace. I wanted answers and justice for my son.

Soon, other tragedies struck. Within months of losing my only son, my brother passed away suddenly in his sleep. My building was broken into, and my property stolen. I've even received bullets fired at my business.

It seemed the universe was determined to pile on as much suffering as it could.

In the aftermath of that tragic day May 2022, grief consumed me. I fell into a deep depression and seriously contemplated taking my own life just to escape the unbearable pain. But I knew I had to keep going for my daughters, who had already lost their brother. Slowly, with their support and encouragement, I started to pull myself out of the darkness.

Two years later, the pain hasn't lessened, but my purpose has grown stronger. I'm determined to fight for change and use my voice to create a more just world - one Tyler would have wanted to see. I've started speaking out publicly about the need for stricter gun laws and other topics related to improving equity, justice, and diversity. I've testified before lawmakers, participated in rallies, and partnered with advocacy groups to push for reforms.

My activism hasn't been without controversy. Some people see me as too outspoken and don't like being challenged. But I'm not afraid. If anything, attempts to silence me have only fueled my fight even more. Too many families, especially in Black and brown communities, have endured the deep trauma of racism and discrimination, losing loved ones to shootings, blocked off from opportunities, and underfunded communities. I won't stay quiet while others continue to suffer and be overlooked.

Every time I open my mouth to share Tyler's story or call for action, I feel closer to my son. I know in my heart that he would be right there beside me, raising his voice too if he could. That's what gives me the strength and courage to keep going each day, despite the risks. My children give me a purpose and reason to get up every morning. I fight in Tyler's memory and for the future he deserved but was robbed of.

Living with the sadness of losing a child is an experience I wouldn't wish on anyone. There will always be a hole in my heart and days when the grief feels as fresh as the day it began. But I'm learning to live with the pain instead of being consumed by it. Translating my private anguish into public advocacy is how I channel this tragedy into something meaningful. If Tyler's life can motivate even small changes that save others, it makes the senselessness slightly more bearable.

This May 20th will mark two years since my son was taken in a senseless act of gun violence. As hard as it is, I’m determined not to let his light be extinguished or his memory fade. I’m speaking louder and standing stronger, refusing to back down from this critical fight for equality and equity, no matter the consequences. Someday, I pray no other mother will have to endure the unthinkable emptiness and unanswered questions that haunt me daily. But until that day comes, I’ll keep honoring Tyler and his legacy through my activism and unwavering voice for change. My son deserves nothing less.

Sabrina Parker is a guest columnist writing about faith, diversity and equality in Jackson and beyond. Contact her at parkerintennessee@gmail.com.

Featured, Jackson